Growing up, I could always feel a sense of difference in myself. It was not just a question of race, gender, nor of height difference that we all start noticing as we grow and age. I noticed that my internal self did not match my external self. Being raised as a young girl, I found that I was not as confident and expressive as my peers were. All of my friends who were girls dressed in a way that I loved and admired, but when I tried to emulate it, it just did not shine the way I saw it shine on them. I had grown breasts at a very young age and they were noticeably larger than the other girls’ in my grade. Because of this, I became hyper-aware of my body and the way others perceived me. Throughout my pre-teen and teen years, I experimented with clothing and decided that I liked dressing like a ‘tomboy’. Something that prompted and comforted me in my new style choices, was the fact that I could conceal the parts of my body I did not want to be exposed or noticed for. Dressing this way created a newfound confidence and made me feel somewhat more comfortable in my own skin than I had ever been before – but it still did not feel authentic to me.
During this time, I also realized how significantly different my weight was from those around me. And while I think back to the early 2000s, let’s remember how deep into diet culture we were. Much of it affected and skewed how I perceived myself, and how I would sometimes envy my peers. I wanted to be smaller like them. I hated how undesirable I felt. It did not help that certain family members were reinforcing the negative feelings I had about myself – so I continued having these negative feelings and thoughts well into my young adult life. Right when I started to become aware of my identity, I knew I was non-binary, but did not have the word for it. It was just that feeling I described earlier, this understanding that inside and outside did not match, and that the binary I was restricted to did not feel supportive nor understanding of who I am.
Moving into my college years and early twenties, I rediscovered myself. I committed to understanding and embracing my sexuality. I realized that all of the feelings of confusion and mismatch were indicators that I was in the early stages of what would be a lifelong journey of self-discovery and self-love. I became much more comfortable and confident in my skin, and began to understand that I was a genderfluid person, and someone who was romantically and sexually attracted to all kinds of people. I never really embraced specific labels, but at the time “Bisexual femme, who uses she/her pronouns” is what made the most sense. Back then, my sexual liberation was what boosted my self-love and self-confidence. For once, I was experiencing connections that were not purely a result of my physical body, but were manifestations of desire triggered by my personality and my intellect. I had never known nor experienced anything like this before, and was pleasantly surprised at how comforting and positive the impact had been for me.
Now at 27, I am still on this self-discovery and self-love journey. Over the years, I have learnt more identity-related terms and concepts, as well as connected with many different people and communities who have helped me shape the identity that now feels like home to me. Today, I identify as a non-binary person who is queer and polyamorous. All of these labels, while separate, still intertwine to create me and help others understand me. Was getting there easy? Not in the slightest. Do I expect more ups, downs, changes and even moments of retraction to continue to happen? Absolutely. As I said before, the journey of self-love and self-discovery is a lifelong one.
If I were to go back in time and offer some comforting words of advice to my younger self, or to anyone struggling to love themselves, here are the three main things I would share:
1) Self-love is not obtained by gaining acceptance or desirability from outside – external validation can help in affirming self-love and body love, but ultimately it all comes from within. Take the time to get to know, explore, understand and learn about your body and yourself. Some practices I suggest doing are saying/writing affirmations, masturbating, body-mapping, and dating yourself. Self-love will not happen overnight, it is a lifelong practice. Be gentle with yourself, be patient.
2) It is not always going to be a fun or even positive journey, and that is okay. The journey to self-love and body-love can seem easy or even glamorous, especially with the rise of folks documenting these things on social media. Your journey can be quiet, personal, and private – or it can be public, shared & widely documented. There is no right or wrong way to experience your journey, and everyone’s journey is unique. Embrace the good and the bad, and ultimately examine the lessons you learn along the way.
3) The biggest takeaway from my own journey is to give yourself grace and love – especially on the bad days. It is so easy to disregard your progress or the big strides you have made when a bad day rears its ugly head. Remind yourself of how far you have come and how already in the past, you have pushed through and continued to love yourself and your body for all that it does for you.
As you embark on your own journey, no matter how far along you are, tell yourself “I am amazing, I am worthy of all of the love and care I give others to be poured right back into myself. I deserve it.”