“I was told I was ugly, odd, too black.”
I’ve come across women that love their features — their curvy bodies, wide noses, freckles, gap teeth, slim bodies — but are somehow clutching onto this idea of perfection that doesn’t quite exist. Society has somehow managed to convince us, through advertising and social media, that the very things that make us stand out are our biggest “flaws.” In actuality, it’s our power — the essence of beauty, truth and purpose. I was inspired by these women because I felt personally connected to their struggle of self-love. This story highlights these women in their natural skin, showcasing their features. Their bug eyes, queerness, gap teeth, acne, and scars. Reminding us that we are all beautiful in our skin.
“Growing up, I had a tough time adjusting to my new life. I moved from Nigeria to America when I was 11 and felt out of place because most of my peers didn’t look like me. In Nigeria, gaps were a beauty mark and it baffled me that Western society didn’t even try to understand my look. I was bullied for heavily for having big lips in high school. There are things I wish I could tell my younger self…
‘You’re beautiful! You need to know that you are just as fine as you think you are! Lip reduction? You’re tripping! Understand that you’re just a flower, still in bloom. Everything takes time, be patient with yourself. It’s all a process, it’s all a journey. Everyone is going through the same thing!’”
Niama Safia Sandy
“I’ve never been skinny, so I have grown to be very comfortable with this body of mine. I wouldn’t say it makes me feel ‘bad,’ but I’ve experienced men catcalling and harassing me in the street since I was in elementary school. As such, I have always had a complicated relationship with accepting compliments. Same happens when people see my eyes; some people just stare and the rest are vocal and will tell me how beautiful they think they are. In general, it’s something I have come to understand as part of my life. It’s this weird space between shellshock and acceptance. Of course, I know I’m beautiful walking down the street…I just don’t need to hear it. That, in all its hyper-masculinity, has always made me deeply uncomfortable.
Build yourself so strong that no one can shake the love you feel and practice for yourself.
“For women who find themselves lacking confidence and hiding their curves behind baggy clothes, I advocate looking at who you believe yourself to be. Build yourself so strong that no one can shake the love you feel and practice for yourself. When you have done the work of learning and loving yourself — whether it’s meditating, being more active, keeping a journal, looking at yourself in the mirror every day and believing that you are beautiful — everything changes. And to my younger self, I would tell her to embrace, learn, and respect every aspect of herself inside and out. There is nothing more powerful than knowledge of self and the confidence that grows from that.”
Ashley Monet Mackey
“The biggest challenge I’ve faced with acne scars is feeling confident about my skin while preparing for job interviews or presentations. Having acne in my teens is still such a sore spot for me. Many family members, who I’m sure meant well, were quick to brashly suggest remedies, shove a plethora of Ambi soaps and Cetaphil lotions in my hands, offer foundation makeup tutorials, and critique my eating habits. It would get exhausting — their unsolicited advice of what I could do better. Just as exhausting is the advice I receive from strangers. To this day, they will often randomly stop me to suggest solutions in the street. While I do appreciate everyone’s thoughtfulness, it can feel overwhelming and frustrating — the constant assessments and critiques.
“I became comfortable in my skin sometime during my college career. It’s still a work in progress. Some days are better than others, but with each passing day, I’m learning to see beauty, explore acts of self-care and loving-kindness with my body and skin, and take more selfies. I know that my light radiates through; no one really is paying attention to my acne.”
Don’t let people define you based on whether your look is to their standards. You are much more than that.
“I have a ‘model’ look, so people often assume that I don’t eat, which is not at all the case! Many people don’t know I was bullied for my look, which actually put me in a position where I harmed myself a number of times. I was depressed and had very low self-esteem. I think people find my look intriguing and can’t decide whether I’m awkward-looking, interesting, or pretty. Growing up as a dark-skinned girl is 90% of the time not the easiest on your self-confidence. Typically, there are two categories; you’re either told you’re beautiful for a dark-skinned girl or you’re overlooked because of your dark skin. Both of these scenarios are not complimentary. Growing up where I did, I was ALWAYS overlooked, I was bullied, I was told I was ugly, odd, too black, or too African. If there’s anything I would tell young dark-skinned girls, it’d be that first and foremost your chocolate skin is beautiful; it’s kissed by the sun and is goddess like! But, I want them to understand that real beauty is more than your skin tone. It’s being a kind person, it’s being a genuine person, it’s being a light in every life you encounter. Don’t let people define you based on whether your look is to their standards. You are much more than that.”
“Embracing your flaws is so liberating and freeing. It’s important because it’s a necessary step in knowing and loving yourself. I was first diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 14. I wasn’t upset or ashamed of it; rather, I was so eager to get in the brace and start the journey of straightening my curves. The older I got, the more self-conscious I became, so I started to wear it less often. As a result, my curve became larger. I soon approached the age where I was done growing so that meant there was no need to wear my brace anymore. This left me with two curves in my spine that gave me an uneven waist, hips, and curves. I was super self-conscious about it, and it kept me from wearing certain clothing that showed this curve. Thus, began my habit of trying to find ways to hide it in outfits, pictures, and everyday life.
Embracing your flaws is so liberating and freeing.
“As an aspiring model, my insecurities truly affected me because they prevented my best self from flourishing. After embracing my flaws, I became more confident in my body. Through my experiences, I’ve learned that when you embrace your flaw and put it out, you realize that it’s not as bad as you think. My flaw has made me see myself for the special, unique person that I am. I now fully understand its purpose in my life.”
“I started to discover my queerness when I found subcultural movements and underground dance scenes in high school. I knew that I didn’t prescribe to the heteronormative gender/sexuality status quo, but it wasn’t until my first exposures to rave culture in the ‘90s that I discovered alternative pathways to being; I found examples of queerness and non-conforming expressions of style, gender, and identities.
“My queerness means staying true to an essential part of myself with the full knowing that my sexual orientation and gender expression is aligned with a love for my body and an acceptance of all aspects of myself that cannot be categorically placed into neat little binaries or boxes of gender or sexual orientation/ desire/attraction. Though my style is always dependent on how I am feeling, my mood is gender non-specific minimal. One time, a friend was dating an older guy who didn’t know how to relate to me. He defaulted to treating me with some sort of competition as if I was male. He asked his girlfriend how he should treat me and she replied, ‘with respect.’ Just because I’m androgynous gender queer does not mean I’m male. My physical state does not and should not affect my identity.” ■