Growing into my identity as a queer black woman, I never felt like I could fully own my body.
I felt watched, analyzed constantly. From a young age I knew that I felt and saw shit differently. I knew how little girls were supposed to dress and how they acted and what they were supposed to be into, but I could never understand it. Some days I'd wake up wanting to wear something cute and feminine, but most days I just wanted to be in a t-shirt or a big-ass hoodie. Even as an elementary school kid, I could never understand why it mattered what section of the store I got my clothes from. I wore what I felt was comfortable, even though it always distanced me from my peers, who were all wearing shit that was matching, polished, thought-out.
I tended to linger on the edge of crowds. Strangers, family, teachers were able to dictate how much of myself I showed to the world. I allowed people's perception of me to control me, and as a result, I spent a lot of time in my thoughts. I built my own little world of daydreams and shit I collected, I shut a lot of people that were close to me out, and I spent a lot of time alone. It was a dance I continued throughout adolescence, and still tend to come back to every so often.
The night before my 17th birthday, I impulsively decided to shave all my hair off. I remember being in elementary school wishing I could just grab some scissors real quick and chop it off. I've always been highly intuitive; decisions I make that I can feel are 100% correct, but can't be explained in the moment always come full circle for me in the future. Instantly, I felt inspired for the first time in a while. You don't realize you're hiding behind shit until you don't have shit to hide behind.
Although shaving my head was a huge step in becoming transparent, it opened up a lot of body image issues I struggled to suppress. I had lost my ability to blend into a crowd, and as a result, began trying to shrink myself again. I started restricting myself from eating certain foods, and then eventually started restricting how much I was eating in a day, checking my weight every day to make sure I wasn't getting any bigger. It escalated so fast that I somehow convinced myself everything I was doing was normal, and I was able to ignore my body's cravings for food.
The process of growing into yourself when you feel unexplainably different than your surroundings than your peers can be lonely. I started spending a lot of time alone again. I distanced myself from the people I was closest to for months. It wasn't always a conscious decision, nor was it meant to shut anyone out—I just felt like I needed to be alone. I practiced listening to myself more; to what my body needed and to what my brain needed. I made a conscious effort to distance myself from negative energy, and learned to trust my intuition. I surrounded myself with positive energy, and learned how to recognize and deal with negativity without letting it drain my energy.
Self love and care is an endless battle that appears differently for everyone.
For me, beginning to understand and appreciate myself meant I had to deal with my issues and have a desire to get better. It meant cutting people out of my life who didn't value me as much as I value myself. Self love taught me positive affirmations, getting up in the morning to stretch, making sure I drank enough water throughout the day and that I spent time in the sun. It took getting to know myself, and becoming aware of my imperfections to better myself. It took listening to the needs of my mind and body, and fulfilling them, regardless of growing pains.
Seriously, take the time to get to know yourself. Shit's cool.