I grew up in a small Connecticut town, from the time I was about 10 years old. I didn’t know it then, but moving away was the way to escape my personal hell. Growing up in a town that has a white population of about 72%, being among the 3% of people of color, it hurts your heart and, even more so, stunts your growth. Most of my friends while I was there were white, with a few black friends among the mix. There are very few public schools in the area and your best bet for education, was private school.
I was blessed to be enrolled in a cushy private school, but it was when it came to being black in that specific school; the microaggressions were even stronger than the blatant racism itself. How could that be true? You would think some of the most “educated” people wouldn’t be so ignorant.
All these questions about my hair, my body, my skin. When you’re in middle school and high school, something like that causes you to shrink and you may even start to hate yourself. You think that “my hair is not perfect,” “I hate the color of my skin,” “my body is too curvy” or “I wish I had a flatter stomach.” Repeat after me: THIS IS TOXIC. And when you live with those toxic thoughts for so long, it’s hard to reverse that process.
Every girl white girl I knew was skinny. When I say skinny, I mean flat chested and nothing behind them. These were the bodies I was used to. This was the body I strived for. The first step I took to get away was to go to college in the South.
I decided to go to school in the South with hopes of meeting more people who looked like me. And what a grand decision it was. I’ve come across all different walks of people of color with versatile backgrounds and several anecdotes to tell. All different shapes and sizes. Women and men with REALISTIC body goals. Pure GENETICS. Something I have not been exposed to in 10 years. Even though it was refreshing to see; I was still stuck in this mindset of “I have to be skinny”.
In college, each year represented a different level of my relationship with my body, food, and self. My freshman year, it was dieting pills. These pills didn’t make me lose any weight. In fact, it made me nauseous and my stomach hurt all the time.
My sophomore year, I started working out (great news, right! WRONG). I lost significant weight and my body was where I wanted it, but I barely ate anything. I remember eating an apple for breakfast a day, salad for dinner, and lots of water. I cheated the system to get to where I was. I did this for almost a year and half.
My junior year, I gave up. I started to eat until I felt full. I started cooking for myself. I stopped reading dieting blogs. I started doing yoga, working out, and I felt happier because I was doing it for my mental health and the body came along with it. I felt healthier. Since then, I’ve had my occasional slip ups (as everyone does), but I was able to get back on track because my motivation was to be happier and healthier. In part, this is what I’ve learned.
Your body is unique. The way it moves, the way it feels, the way it’s only tailored for you. Embrace it!
It will get worse before it gets better. Everyone says this, but what I mean is that you will go through several cycles of hating yourself before you can truly understand it’s time to let go of the pain and suffering you’re projecting onto yourself.
Don’t listen to everyone’s opinion. Don’t get caught up in Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram or Twitter. People are programmed to pick on anything or anyone. Don’t let them project their insecurities onto yours. Do yourself a favor and just don’t.
Genetics are genetics. Stop beating yourself up over your curves. They are right where they are supposed to be.
Don’t believe everything you hear about body positivity. Figure it out for yourself. It’s like if you did everything someone told you to do, the way you act or think, would you really be you? Figure out what you need to love yourself to fullest because not everyone’s “thing” can be your “thing”.
I wish I could give you all the answers so you could take it with a grain of salt and run, but I can’t. I can only tell you to keep your mind open when living in one place because people will try to keep you in that mindset until you believe them. Sometimes you have to move out of your white town or city to appreciate the beauty that has been standing right there in front of you this whole time.
Rachel Elizabeth is a Public Relations student with an eye for fashion and design. In her spare time, she enjoys branding social media accounts, painting, and taking care of her kitten, Oatmeal. She is also a lover of the arts and a huge foodie!