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The Average Girl's Guide to living well and facing adversity

Alyson Seligman found a connection with other ‘average’ girls when she created a website to share everything from style tips to personal heartbreak.

By Staci Sturrock - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer



By all appearances, the world is Alyson Seligman’s runway.

Hyperconnected and not a hair out of place, the Palm Beach Gardens lifestyle blogger is an in-demand “influencer” who’s worked for T.J.Maxx, Revlon, Bacardi and Scotch Duct Tape, highlighting their products on her peppy website, TheAverageGirlsGuide.com (“A handbook for your best life”). She’s one of 17 women nationwide whom Target selected to preview its merchandise months before it hits stores, and “People Style Watch” and “Redbook” will share her shopping tips in fall issues.

From a 900-square-foot PGA Commons office (a cute space she’s redecorating with help from Target and interior designer Nate Berkus), Seligman also runs a growing PR firm, Seligman Brand Strategies, that represents the City of West Palm Beach, the Jewish Community Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, law firms, local restaurants and beauty brands.

In so many ways, the 33-year-old wife and mother is, to use one of her favorite phrases, “having a moment.”

And it feels amazing. (“Kind of a duh, right?” Seligman might say.)

“Three years ago, four years ago, five years ago, I could never see me sitting in this moment, with a blog and a business and a 3-1/2-year-old,” she says.

That’s because Seligman, who appears to be the picture of health, struggles daily with medical issues. She’s survived a rare disorder that left her temporarily paralyzed and permanently altered.

And recently, her planned adoption of a second child went awry at the last moment. As she wrote on her blog, “sometimes the baby you finally let into your heart isn’t destined to be yours at all.”

Those who know Seligman best say the self-described “average girl”‘s response to adversity is far from average.

“She really blows my mind,” says her 30-year-old brother, Danny Miller. “I don’t know how she does what she does. The challenges that she faced — I think most people would say, ‘That’s just too much.’ Not only did she not do that, it just skyrocketed who she was as a person.”

Transforming her style

Seligman is something of a fashion Cinderella — the belle of the blogging ball who turns down more invitations to partner with brands than she accepts. But she maintains a delightful self-deprecating streak, confessing to her readers that she still mumbles and stutters when she’s around the “cool girls,” admitting that she “practically did a major loser dance” when Target offered to fly her to New York last spring.

Growing up, the Long Island, N.Y., native, who moved to Florida when she was 12, says, “I was the chubby girl who was trying to make friends, but I was never the most popular or thinnest or cutest or any of those things.”

At the University of Florida, she majored in public relations and minored in Jewish studies, but stylewise, the fashion trendsetter who recently met with the Ann Taylor team, was, well, not a quick study. “If I wasn’t wearing blue, gray or stripes, you wouldn’t have seen me. That was like everything I wore, and I’m talking about nights out, too. It was pretty brutal,” she says.

Confides her best friend, Dori Marlin of Albany, N.Y.: “She had one top that was a dark green that she wore all the time. She’s definitely branched out. Let’s put it that way.”

After college, Seligman worked at a Jewish community center in the Tampa Bay area, earned a master’s degree in strategic communications from the University of South Florida and, nine years ago this month, married real estate attorney Adam Seligman. When he landed a job with a Palm Beach County law firm, the couple moved to West Palm Beach, where a PR agency hired her. The couple established their careers, moved to Palm Beach Gardens and, in 2009, had a daughter, Sarah.

But in March 2010, life delivered the unexpected. Seligman felt unusually tired, with a sore throat and what felt like a urinary tract infection. She saw a doctor, started antibiotics and proceeded to celebrate her 30th birthday with Adam: dinner at CityPlace and “Jersey Boys” at the Kravis Center. During the show, Seligman recalls, “My skin felt like it was on fire.”

Even worse, for 12 hours, she lost the ability to urinate, leaving her belly distended and swollen. Still, on Friday morning, Seligman, who admits to being a “Type-A crazy lady,” proceeded to a meeting with a client, who politely told her to see a doctor immediately.

That physician drained a liter of liquid from her bladder. And that weekend, she was so exhausted that Adam had to carry her up the stairs of their house.

“I still thought, ‘How serious can this be?’ I’d never broken a bone. I’d never had anything serious in my life,” Seligman says.

On Monday morning, a urologist informed her that the issue was neurological. That afternoon, a neurologist “looked at me, and it was along the lines of, ‘You should go right into the hospital, right now,’ ” Seligman says.

At Jupiter Medical Center, the admissions clerk asked her to sign some papers, but Seligman was unable to grip a pen.

Within hours, she was paralyzed from the chest down, and sent into an MRI machine for 2 1/2 hours. Seligman’s scans were the most dire her doctor had ever seen, Adam recalls: “She said, ‘I’m not sure she’ll ever walk again.’ ”

Using adversity to succeed

The diagnosis was transvere myelitis, a one-in-a-million neurological disorder caused by inflammation across a segment of spinal cord or, in Seligman’s case, along her entire spinal cord.

Doctors administered massive doses of steroids and inserted a catheter in Seligman’s neck to deliver muscle relaxers and painkillers. She slowly began to regain some movement and, after two weeks in Jupiter, transferred to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach for two more weeks of physical therapy.

When she finally returned home, Seligman was forced to use a walker, could manage one trip a day down and up the stairs, relied on a day nurse to drive her to doctor’s appointments and could only hold baby Sarah when sitting down. “And going to the bathroom was always a production,” says Seligman.

Her complete recovery from the ordeal took the better part of a year, but she still experiences pins-and-needles and burning sensations in her legs and feet, and her bladder, she says, “is shot.” (Botox injections keep things in check.)

Seligman returned to work less than four months after she entered the hospital, but after a few weeks, her employer let her go.

Says her best friend Marlin, “I just remember getting a phone call and her telling me, ‘On top of everything else, I’ve lost my job.’ And I thought, ‘You’ve got to be joking. Can you throw one more thing on top of the pile?’ She didn’t really know what she was going to do. But I know Alyson well enough to know that she wouldn’t let grass grow under her feet.”

In retrospect, Seligman says, being fired was “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

With an initial investment of $300, she hung her own shingle and landed her first client, a law firm. The City of West Palm Beach soon followed suit. “From bad came good,” Adam Seligman says. “She’s sort of turned it around.”

That same month, she launched her long-dreamed-of blog, an outlet for “sharing random things that I felt other women would be interested in” — style tips, cosmetic finds, home-decor DIYs and easy recipes.

It’s a labor of love. In addition to posting fresh content five to six times a week, Seligman updates her readers via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, meaning her iPhone is rarely out of reach. But that’s the kind of passion and perserverance required to singlehandedly build a lifestyle blog that attracts 35,000 unique visitors a month, says Kimberly Smith of PennyPincherFashion.com.

“There are a lot of blogs who don’t make it to the level she’s at because they don’t have the patience and determination or they don’t have the time. People think, ‘Oh, it’ll be a fun hobby,’ ” Smith says. “The fact that she owns and runs her own company in addition to her own blog is mind-boggling to me. Blogging can be a full-time job, especially when you’re starting out and trying to gain momentum and attract readers.”

While Seligman is evangelical about her favorite brands (Gap, Old Navy, Nordstrom), her heart belongs to Vent Sesh, an ongoing feature in which she writes openly about the likes of body image and bathing suits, social-media addiction and her “Secret BFF” (aka her therapist).

Many lifestyle bloggers draw the line at divulging such personal information. “But for her, what a lot of women love, and why they keep coming back, is because she’s open and honest: ‘This is what I’m struggling with,’ ” Smith says. “It’s not all fluff and polish like a lot of other blogs out there.”

Seligman’s forthrightness attracted the attention of Target last year, when the company launched Inner Circle. “People who are part of Target Inner Circle are very honest with their audience,” says Target spokesperson Joe Curry. “She just shows a very positive energy and enthusiasm in everything she writes about. She’s relatable and genuine.”

‘A selfish gift’

Seligman used Vent Sesh most recently as a forum to discuss the painful fallout of a failed adoption.

Because transverse myelitis can be triggered by pregnancy, the Seligmans opted to adopt a second child. The adoption “seemed like it was perfect timing,” says Adam Seligman. “All her friends were having kids. It was a boy, and we wanted a boy. Everything was lined up. The baby was healthy. And it sort of fell apart.”

A few days before the due date, the birth mother backed out. The adoption attorney notified Adam Seligman, who had to break the news to his wife. “It was very, very tough,” he says. “We had just picked the baby’s name before it happened.”

Seligman blogged about her heartbreak within days. “The baby that we thought was destined to be ours was due four days ago,” she wrote. “I’m sharing this because if you’re a woman dealing with this, I want you to know I get it, and you’re not alone. And I’m sharing it because I’m doing everything in my being to keep moving forward while I’m hurting pretty bad.”

Readers reached back through the blogosphere to embrace Seligman with their words. “I want to come to Florida and hug you,” wrote one. Said another, “How vulnerable and courageous of you to share your journey … I know so many women who must be reading this and it is helping THEM heal and recover … very selfless of you.”

Not selfless, Seligman says. It’s “a selfish gift” to share her story, Seligman says. “Out of something so crappy, we were able to touch lives and help women who might have suffered miscarriages or who were going through failed fertility treatments.

“I have this platform, and I feel I’m not doing a service to anyone if all I’m talking about is deals and shoes.”

Seligman admits that the name of her blog might be misleading. But not really.

“I have some facets that make me not so average, but when you hone in on who the real me is, that feels slightly awkward or shy or still working on perfecting the best styles for her body and what makeup colors look best for her and what hair products she should be using, then that’s where the Average Girl’s Guide comes from.

“I’m just an average girl trying to figure that out, and I think I’ve always been that girl.”


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