As children, we are taught by way of the media to hate what's different. Somewhere along the line, from diapers to grade school, we become adapt to conformity, afraid of the unknown. As a woman who spent a good portion of her life attending predominantly white school, I specifically remember the moments of insecurity I experienced as a result of the kinks in my hair or the width of my nose. Even as an adult, I harbor insecurities about the lack of, or even exuberance of, my blackness.
Thankfully, a small yet ambitious army of women are determined to make melanin mainstream. As cultural standards shift in what it means to be beautiful, women of color have gained a platform to tell their stories on a worldwide level. One of the warriors in the army against insecurity is self-published author, Jennifer Vassel.
Creator of the self-love themed children's book I am Unique!, Jennifer spent the majority of her life with what she felt was a God-given flaw. Since grade school, she was insecure about her birthmark, which covers her shoulder and much of her back. Jennifer said, "I was 7 when I first realized I had a birthmark and I didn't see anyone else with one. At around 8, I started feeling self-conscious because people would ask me questions about it, thinking it was a bruise."
Like most of us, instead of embracing what made her different, Jennifer hid her birthmark every time she got the chance. Her budding insecurity began to dictate every part of her life, even her wardrobe. She told xoNecole, "Because I didn't see anyone who looked like me with a birthmark, I thought it was a flaw and grew up not wearing tops and dresses that exposed it. I started telling myself what I could and could not wear because of my mark. For my high school prom, I had the makeup artist conceal my mark with foundation because I wanted to look beautiful that night."
Coincidentally, the physical eccentricity that she sought so hard to conceal ended up being a part of her legacy forever.
Jennifer was raised in Los Angeles by Jamaican immigrant parents and discovered her affinity for writing at 6 years old. By 8 years old, she had written her first short story, and by 9, she had been published. Despite her apparent love for her passion, Jennifer found herself working as a Human Resources professional in her adult life. It wasn't until she heard a prolific New Year's Eve sermon by her pastor that she chose to pursue writing as a full-time career.
"Don't die with your gifts still on the inside of you; impart to others what was entrusted to you."
Less than two years later, she published her first book: a collection of short stories and poems, which ultimately became an Amazon #1 Bestseller, but it wasn't until 2016 that she published a book that would change the trajectory of her entire brand.
Jennifer's latest book, I Am Unique! features Erin, a young girl with a big heart and even bigger dreams who is preparing to audition for the lead role in the school play, and only one thing can get in her way: insecurity. Erin's story mirrors Jennifer's childhood, her night at the prom, and every moment wishing both her insecurity and her birthmark would somehow fade away. The author shared, "It wasn't until I was a freshman in college when I got tired of hiding. I just woke up one day and thought, 'This is silly.' I started wearing clothes that exposed my mark. When no one on campus pointed it out, I started feeling more comfortable in my own skin."
"It took me 10 years to get over my birthmark insecurity. One of the purposes for writing I Am Unique!was to shorten that struggle period and help kids address their insecurities - whatever they may be - right when they develop."
Jennifer shared that she wrote this book featuring this melanated maven, to inspire the little girl in all of us to find confidence in their gifts.
"The truth is, Erin lives within all of us. Whether it is a birthmark like hers, a childhood scar, or maybe even something we can't physically see, we all have something about us that could trigger insecurities. That's why we're positioning Erin as the face of self-love, so we can inspire kids to rise above those insecurities and share their unique gifts with the world."
The author told xoNecole that deep down, every woman is a little girl who has been harboring their insecurities and indulging in negative self-talk since childhood. According to Jennifer, the key to mastering self-love is mastering the power of your truth. She's even gotten a first-hand account of how a children's book has the ability to touch the hearts of grown women.
"I believe inside every woman is a little girl who has not addressed the insecurities they've faced in their earlier years."
"I know this because after sharing my story at an event, a woman approached me with tears in her eyes saying how inspiring my story is. She shared that until this day, she cannot bring herself to love her natural hair due to a bad childhood experience (she was at a restaurant and headed to the ladies' room. Someone told her she was going to the wrong bathroom because they thought she was a boy)."
Our self-identified flaws have the power to plague us our entire lives if we don't confront our demons and learn to accept ourselves as we are; and that's a message so simple that even a little girl named Erin with big dreams of being on stage can comprehend.
After being recognized widely in her field, and by media like Forbes and Black Enterprise, the young creative says that her work has only begun. Jennifer is currently laser-focused on building I Am Unique! as an empowerment brand, complete with a free audio book and parent's guide, that can help children across the world tap into their natural gifts and actualize their wildest dreams.
Jennifer shared, "Some current and future projects are a coloring and activity book, an Erin doll, and some opportunities in the tech, music, and entertainment space. The goal is to have multiple touch points for Erin to meet kids right where they are, and inspire them to live their lives undimmed."
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