I stand in the mirror, trying on my biggest smile, as hopeless tears fall down my face and dripping kinks barely pass my chin. The overflow of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) scatters across my frame; chin hairs, hyperpigmentation, and hormonal imbalances scream at me through the foggy reflection. There is no way to love this body—it wouldn’t reciprocate. The banging on the bathroom door brings me back to reality. “Five more minutes!” I yell back at my sister as I towel off, moisturize, and get dressed.
I occupy a lot of mental real estate pondering all the things that make me tick. I think about my yesterdays and my todays—I think about my tomorrows far too much. I ponder the way my body looks and am acutely aware of the way I walk and speak. I think about my hair, the way my earrings set in my ears. I think about my angles, my profile, the back of my head… I am constantly reflecting on the ways I take up space in the world and what I leave behind, is it a stench or is it a fragrance?
I tend to talk a lot. I was that girl in school, the one who was raising her hand as soon as the teacher finished the question. The target of all my classmates’ “Ugh!” and “She always got somethin’ to say!” I tried really hard to hold back and not answer the questions, but I also probably learned at some point that eloquence was a primary way to get respect. On those days I would walk home in deep regret. Nothing was ever enough. Everything was too much.
In the early 2000s I was 15 and looked nothing like the girls from any of Ludacris’ music videos. My natural hair wasn’t trending, and European beauty standards weren’t being challenged. To be frank, I hated myself. I couldn’t stomach looking at myself in the mirror longer than two seconds, and I felt like I was being sucked into a vortex of helplessness: my sunken place.
I existed in multiple circles, and they all had different rules. At home, as a young African Christian, I was expected to be a straight A-student and engage in every church event. As a Black girl, I wrestled with beauty, friendships, romance, and what it meant to be myself. As a student, I tossed between learning and performing for acceptance. As a creative, I longed to seek out what I was made for in the art space. Navigating all of me felt like trying to ace a standardized test on the first go—and I was constantly failing.
It wasn’t until ten years later that a light turned on in my inner world, and I could see what I’d been missing. I could see where self-hatred was setting me up for a disappointing cycle of disengaging with the woman I was becoming. So, at 25 years-old, instead of rejecting the woman I saw in the mirror—flaws and all—I became a student of my own “becoming.” I chose to fall in love with who I was seeing. I stopped seeking to convince anyone else of my freedom. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but it was a combination of facing my worst fears and leaning into God.
Sacred hypervigilance set in. I began to care for the inner 15-year-old me the way she deserved to be cared for. I sought out mentors and friends that loved the parts of me I had spent so long hating. Suddenly, anything was possible. I listened to compliments and faced feedback. Instead of building a case against myself and my weaknesses, I paid attention to people I admired. I observed the ways they managed their finances, spoke in conversation, spent time with their families, exuded confidence in decision-making, brought clarity to complex situations, showed up on time, and how they chose to nourish their bodies. Instead of thinking that I didn’t measure up, I chose to take small steps toward the woman I wanted to be.
I went from days of mental Crossfit—lying in bed, unable to sleep for hours, reflecting on my perceived inadequacies—to remembering who I am. I am befriending and embracing this process of becoming, and I’m boxing self-hatred square in the jaw by facing myself in the mirror and telling 15-year-old me that she is beautiful, flaws and all.
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