From Our Readers
July 07, 2015 6:30 am

As a first-generation American, half-Asian, half-Hispanic twenty-something, (phew!), I will always remember growing up struggling to accept myself as a woman of color. Negative self-image was that dreadful thing I started to cultivate in third grade, and it only worsened during middle school, high school, and my first couple years of college. I didn’t like the way I looked because I wanted so desperately to fit a specific mold, that mold of tall and thin and white — that pesky image the media and, well, the history of the world, continues to feed us everyday.

No amount of makeup or even a gorgeous wardrobe would change my non-classically European features. My skin was caramel-brown because of the traces of Spanish blood inherent in my Filipino mother, and my butt would always be not-so-proportional to my otherwise petite frame. Here are a few of the ways I stopped measuring myself against American media’s defined, often impossible-to-aspire-to beauty standards and started embracing myself as a rad woman of color.

I stopped trying to turn my natural, ethnic features into something they couldn’t be

As I entered my sophomore year of college, I made it my mission to lose fifteen pounds. I wanted an overall more waif-like appearance because it was what was (and continues to be, despite certain awesome beauty campaigns and instances in the media that sometimes portray otherwise) in style. In my mind, I felt as someone who loves fashion and style, I needed to be a certain size to be a part of that world and appreciate it. I wanted my clothes to “hang off” me.

But while I am naturally petite, genes from my father’s side blessed me with a bigger butt-to-body proportion that wasn’t so model-esque. So, even though I lost the weight, it still took a certain magic pair of high-waist boyfriend jeans to steer clear of the infamous diaper butt effect. It didn’t stop at accepting my overall frame as the product of my ethnic equation, though — there were other parts of myself that I had to try to stop altering and learn to love. I have to admit to trying makeup tutorials to make my almond eyes appear bigger; I even would avoid the sun at all costs during the summer so I wouldn’t get “too dark.” Bleak, right?

All of these actions were exhausting. It didn’t matter what I did because at the end of the day, I had to eventually wash the eyeliner, mascara, and Naked basics palette off and look at my dark-skinned, almond-eyed, ethnic self in the mirror. I had to accept her as she was, because she wasn’t going to change any time soon. Once I stopped trying to alter my natural features in the attempt to reach some unachievable standard, I was one step closer to embracing myself as a Rockin’ WoC.

I started seeing my differences as marks of beauty rather than flaws

Okay, like all of these steps, this took some getting used to. I am a strong believer in affirmations, so having little sentences I would think to myself at times where I felt low and down about my own self-image definitely helped. My eyes are almond-shaped and unique, and they make for a killer smoky eye look! Or My darker skin tone makes me glow, even in the winter! were among the few that did the trick, at least over time.

Whenever I find I am comparing myself to someone in magazine or on the street, sometimes I think of one of these positive affirmations, and it helps me realize the beauty in others while still acknowledging my own unique worth as a WoC.

I started finding inspiration that reminded me of the beauty of being a woman of color

This began with simply ending certain magazine subscriptions and unfollowing certain fashion websites and blogs. The lack of diversity in these publications would contribute to my feeling underrepresented and low about my own appearance. Sure, I could still pick up a copy of certain magazine publications and derive style inspiration from them, but I would no longer make it my mission to aspire to being what the media celebrates as high fashion and “chic,” necessarily. I resolved to define my own style, curate my own world of what should be celebrated, and find what makes me feel and look beautiful on my own terms — not on anyone else’s.

Do not underestimate the powers of Pinterest! I use Pinterest and Tumblr to collect images of people, places, and even just colors and pictures of nature that remind me of what it is I find beautiful — and this extends far beyond the small world of what the media portrays as desirable. Style icons of women of color like Chanel Iman, Shay Mitchell, the beautiful WoC actresses of OITNB, Zoe Saldana and more remind me of the various shades of gorgeous that exist beyond the predictable types.

I started wearing clothes in colors, shades, and styles that flattered my unique features

I feel that people should wear whatever they want — but what helped me specifically was to start wearing clothes in colors that highlighted my unique features and skin tone. Once I started finding a color palette that looked great against my skin and hair, I felt more confident overall.

In doing this, I stopped blindly following what advertisements and trend articles were feeding me about what to buy during which season. Again — Pinterest helped in providing a platform where I could organize images of color and outfit inspiration on a board that I could refer to later. I found that dressing myself (not necessarily shopping for new things, but even just finding or rediscovering pieces I already owned) was a form of self-care. And we should always try to be as kind to and accepting of ourselves as possible, no?

I started to learn more about my roots and culture

My first year of college, I went to a smaller liberal arts school in New Jersey that wasn’t super diverse. I actually found it pretty hard to make friends beyond the acquaintances I had on my floor. Although I eventually transferred, (my desire for more diversity, as well as just a preference for a city atmosphere over this college’s smaller, suburban campus being the main factors), I managed to join the school’s Filipino student organization and made friends that way while still learning about one of my cultures.

At my new college, I joined a similar club and found it not only connected me with students who had similar experiences and backgrounds as me, but it also helped me feel more proud to be of my culture. I started to not feel the stigma of being an “other.”

This, of course, is my own experience, and I found these ways to be most helpful as I continue to learn everyday to find new ways to incorporate self-care and self-love into my life. Accepting oneself is an ongoing process. There will always be setbacks and bad days, but when I have moments of insecurity, I understand that the bounce-back is what’s most important.

I keep in mind that not only is this journey of self-love and self-acceptance for me, but also for those who look up to me. I have younger siblings, and this played a part in my realizing my responsibility to portray an example of opulent confidence for them, too. I had to accept myself as a Rockin’ Woman of Color and to embrace the beautiful differences that make me, me. And in a world obsessed with female body image and beauty ideals, it requires great courage.

Jessica G. is a writer from New Brunswick, New Jersey. She graduated from Rutgers University with an English degree and a caffeine addiction. When she’s not reading and writing, she’s hunting for unique finds at local thrift stores, perfecting her “no-makeup” makeup, and experimenting with kale. Follow her on Instagram @jessjeshjess

[Image via iStock]

Advertisement