Created In Partnership With Aerie

From A Sense Of Belonging To Body Acceptance: How 4 New York Women Were Shaped By The City

It’d be narrow-minded to believe that buildings exist to provide nothing more than shelter, constructed with brick and mortar and little else, or that parks are simply areas in which to congregate. The truth is, these spaces are layered with meaning and etched with stories by the people who occupy them. In partnership with Aerie, we asked four New Yorkers — some born and bred; others transplants — to pinpoint the places that hold meaning to them. For one, it’s a memory of one specific street that has shaped her into the person she is today; for another, it’s an ice cream shop that serves as an embodiment of her body acceptance journey. Scroll through to read their inspiring stories, told in their own words. 
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Christianne Gormley

Freelance Vice Media Group Video Editor & Producer, 25
Location: Brooklyn Bridge Park, Dumbo
Three years ago, right after college, I moved to New York City with nothing but two suitcases. No job, no friends, no apartment. But it didn’t matter; I knew the city was going to be my home. I'd known since high school — as the lone artist in a sea of jocks, as one of only a handful of Filipinos living in the tiny, predominantly white town of Hot Springs, Ark. (my graduating class was a total of seven people) — that New York City was where I was meant to be. I felt like it was the place where I could be whoever I was, without feeling like I was the weird one.  
Things worked out: I found an apartment in downtown Brooklyn through the Roomi app, and I met friends through church, supplemented by visits from my college friends who lived on Long Island. But, I’ll admit, it was lonely at first. I spent a lot of time in my room writing, applying for jobs, waiting for my start. So, I’d go to BKG Coffee Roasters on Myrtle Avenue to be around people, to be inspired. I had my spot (the corner), my go-to order (a vanilla latte), and it became a routine. The coffee shop was where I applied to jobs and where people knew me, which is what I love about Brooklyn — the sense of community. 
But my absolute favorite thing to do was bring my croissant and coffee to one of the parks in Dumbo (it’s also the place where I still bring my friends when they visit), because I love gazing at the city. Not only is the view breathtaking, it’s also unbelievably inspiring. 
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In the summer of 2019, my mom applied for me to compete in Miss New York. My platform was art education, because there’s an expectation for Asian kids to go into the medical or science fields, and while I’m grateful that my parents are supportive of me and my creative journey, I want to help other kids express themselves creatively. I was titled Miss Brooklyn, and the moment cemented what I knew to be true: I was representing a place that was my home. 
The pandemic solidified those feelings even further. When I was told that I would start working from home, I flew back to Arkansas and stayed with my parents for the next nine months, and it was hard because I missed New York. Because I was missing home. When I came back, I signed the lease for a studio of my own. And now, when I sit in the parks in Dumbo and look out into the city, I can’t help but reflect just how blessed I am to be able to live here, to be financially independent, to be who I want to be. 

Kayla Isaacs

Vice Media Group Senior Creative, 27
Location: Ample Hills Creamery
Let me start off by saying that I have a sweet tooth. A major chocolate lover. I discovered Ample Hills a couple years ago on one hot, fateful summer day and got the Chocolate Milk & Cookies flavor — I became obsessed. It is the best flavor
Flash forward to last summer during COVID. I was in a new relationship — my quarantine bae — and there wasn’t much to do other than walk around. We happened on Ample Hills, and it soon became a Sunday ritual. We’d end the week with a walk and ice cream, either at the West Village or Brooklyn location. 
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I was in the city during lockdown, but if my mom didn’t live here, I would’ve been one of those people to leave during the height of it. My sister and I stayed with her and we were here through it all — the ups and downs, and now, the reemergence of New York City. I didn’t officially move here until 2016 (my first memory is from sixth grade, when I began to take annual trips from Allentown, Penn., to get a cut at a curly-hair salon), but I think I always knew I wanted to live in New York. 
I’m in a studio in Chelsea now, but my boyfriend no longer lives in the city. We were driving out to his place one day recently when we passed by Ample Hills, and he immediately pulled the car over so we could get ice cream before we left (I also bought us Ample Hills T-shirts to commemorate our love for it). I love how this shop has inadvertently become a staple in our relationship. But more than that, I love the way ice cream makes me feel. In the past, I’ve had issues with body acceptance and I’ve experienced disordered eating — and that’s why I feel really powerful when I’m able to, on a Sunday evening, decide to eat ice cream. There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have allowed myself to eat the way I wanted or to consume something like ice cream that truly brings me so much joy. So the fact that I can go to Ample Hills and enjoy ice cream is a reminder just how far I’ve come, how much I’ve grown. 
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Z

Artist, 26
Location: Maria Hernandez Park, Bushwick, Brooklyn
The first time I ever pulled on a pair of roller skates wasn’t that long ago: December 2019, a month before I made the move from New York to Los Angeles. A few months later, I bought my first pair of skates — holographic with sparkly blue wheels that made me feel like a little kid again. But then COVID hit, and the city went on lockdown where there was nothing for me to do except to wake up, lace up, and skate for hours. 
Living in LA was hard: I was in a toxic/racist roommate situation, I didn’t have any friends I could count on, and I felt incredibly alone and depressed. But I found that skating uplifted me, putting me in a better head space. As an artist, I’ve always been able to express myself through art, but by roller skating, which is inextricably linked to music, I’m able to channel how I’m feeling through my movements. It became an avenue of self-discovery and self-expression (one of my favorite parts is dressing up in glittery, celestial, fairy-like looks that are cute but also sporty). 
I moved back to New York last June to be around family and friends (I was born in Harlem and grew up in Jackson Heights, Queens). There was a sense of community then that’s missing in today’s digital age. Now, living in Bushwick and going to Maria Hernandez Park to roller skate, I feel that connection to my community again. Roller skating has not only brought me confidence, it’s also allowed me to get to know my neighbors, especially the kids, who like to ask about it.
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Skateboarders at the park told me they’ve noticed a recent crop of roller skaters, which is beautiful — I had no idea I would influence and inspire others to pick up their skates. When I see a new face, I welcome them to skate with me, so they know they’re not alone. I know how much joy skating brings me, so seeing others attempting to find that same joy makes me really happy. That’s also why I launched a skate community called Sk8mamis, a space for womxn and femme-identifying non-binary people, because I hadn’t found one that was welcoming or inviting or safe. Roller skating should be fun and you shouldn’t have to worry about being harassed or touched without your consent. As soon as I realized I could do something about it, I, along with the help of others, created this dream community together.

Veronica Bonilla

Content Creator, 27
Location: Troutman Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn
I remember the moment like it was yesterday: My mom and eight-year-old me standing in front of the building of her first apartment on Troutman Street in Bushwick. She was crying tears of joy because she finally had a place of her own to call home. And she was so excited to give me my own room, which she decorated with Rugrats-themed curtains (my favorite). That single memory is what inspires me to make it on my own, because it’s something that my mom strived to achieve. I’ll never forget it. 
That was after spending about a year in a homeless shelter. At the time, I didn’t understand what was going on. We had a bed and shared a kitchen and bathroom with others. But was this our home? Why didn’t we have our own place? And why couldn’t we stay with grandma? My mom, a single parent, was young — in her 20s — and she was set on carving her own path. I was born in Williamsburg and lived there until the age of five before we moved to my grandmother’s at Marcy Projects in Bedford-Stuyvesant. We were there until my mom and my aunt had a falling out, and we packed up our things and headed to the shelter.  
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We stayed at the apartment on Troutman for two years — until my mom lost her job and we had to move back to my grandmother’s. In an interesting turn of events, when the pandemic hit, I also moved back to my grandmother’s. I had been living in an apartment with roommates but made the decision to go home during lockdown, help my family out, and then get my own place once it was all over. What I loved about it was spending quality time with my family, getting reacquainted with my grandmother, and listening to retellings of childhood stories as an adult. It’s beautiful to see the parallels in my mom’s life and mine — we’re two very different people, but we share the same drive that keeps us going no matter what. 
Still, moving back home triggered some childhood traumas (my rocky relationship with my grandmother, memories of my mother and father), which prompted me to start therapy and to heal from those wounds. Now, I communicate better. And during the holidays last year, we were all communicating and having fun — I never dreamed we would ever get to that place. I lost my grandmother a month ago, and I’m happy that I have those memories of us I can cherish, that I made the decision to go back home. 
I moved out this January into my own apartment on Knickerbocker Avenue, which is where my mom and I used to frequent when we lived on Troutman. All the mom-and-pop shops are still there, which is unbelievable. It’s definitely a full-circle moment — eight-year-old me would be so proud.
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