A few months ago while I was organizing my room, I discovered an old journal that I used to write in when I was younger.
Lawd, I was something else.
Many of my entries consisted of insecurities about my body: this wasn’t good enough, that definitely wasn’t good enough. I also wrote down the hurtful things that bullies said would say to me. Looking back to it now, it appeared as if I was a hypocrite—here I was complaining about bullies, but I was being one to myself. One of my features that I couldn’t accept was my hair. As a child, I would sit in front of the mirror with a fine-toothed comb, constantly running it through my long, kinky hair because I thought that it would straighten it. I couldn’t understand why my hair wasn’t straight and smooth like the other girls at school. I just wanted to fit in and feel pretty. I remember after much begging and pleading, my sisters and I finally convinced our mom to let us get perms. The day after I got my hair done, all of my classmates were shocked that my once-kinky mane was now straight and silky. That high only lasted a short while, however, because my virgin hair couldn’t take it and all of my hair broke off.
The way that I walked also affected my self-esteem. I had to wear leg braces as a toddler and because I carried a heavy backpack to school, I developed scoliosis. Not a week would go by without me receiving harsh comments from other students. I remember this one guy in high school made it his duty to remind me of how much I hated my walk. I was certain that he woke up every morning asking himself, “Hmm, how can I make Jessie miserable today?” It’s almost as if he was lurking the hallways, waiting for me to pass so that he could make his crude comments. My only comeback was telling him to shut up and leave me alone, which of course never worked. I tried not to let his words affect me until one day, I finally reached my limit. No, I didn’t fight him—I cried. I cried in the middle of the freakin' cafeteria. Once he found out what happened, he later apologized to me later that day with the most insincere look on his face. Although I accepted his apology, the hurt and anger lingered.
So many negative comments were thrown my way during my childhood to the point where it made me bitter. I would become very skeptical whenever I was given a compliment—I wondered if they were only saying it to make me feel better. My bad habit of comparing made me believe that I wasn’t good enough as the girls around me.
Comparing ourselves to others disconnects us from self-love. What makes comparing unfair is that we often contrast the “worst” part of ourselves to the "best" that we see in others. With the heightened popularity of social media, it has become almost impossible to not do so. We constantly see what our followers deem as attractive and this can take a toll on our self-esteem if we believe that we don’t measure up to those standards.
Recently, model Aamito Lagum was featured on MAC Cosmetics’ Instagram page, sporting a purple lipstick on her full and lovely lips. After receiving messages from her friends to check out the comment section on the photo, she went back to the post and was shocked by what she read—derogatory, racial slurs made in reference to her lips. Instead of giving in to the negativity, she gracefully responded, “My lips giving you sleepless nights,” underneath a screenshot that she posted of a blog post referring to the incident. What I admire about Aamito is her ability to love herself despite those who feel the need to spread hate.
Her response teaches a lesson that we must all know: you must embrace what you have been blessed with. Those who hate themselves will go completely out of their way to make sure you hate yourself as well. You can't join in on the negative criticism that people give you.
Being focused on society’s beauty standards and the opinions of others hindered my ability to see my worth and beauty, and it took me becoming completely sick of it to make an effort to change. In 2010, I cut off all of my chemically processed hair and I began to love my natural hair texture. In terms of how I walk and my posture, they both have improved overtime. What has helped my confidence is asking God to allow me to see what He sees in me. Once you realize how much effort God has put into creating you and how much He loves you, you won't find yourself chasing after others for their approval.
The process of taking my power back from those who have stolen it from me has been liberating. I am still a work in progress, but I have come a long way. The road to self-love requires training the mind to fight self-defeating thoughts, focusing only on the positive, and not worrying about the next person. Whenever someone compliments you, simply smile and say “thank you,” instead of coming up with an excuse as to why you don’t deserve to be admired. Keep practicing at it and you will begin to feel free, and it is an amazing feeling.
Even if no one celebrates you, still choose to celebrate yourself.