7 Unapologetic Women Share Their Personal Journey To Self-Love

"It's appreciating the scars and turning them into beauty marks."

Human Interest

Self-love can be the best love but most of us have had to go through a journey of self-hate, or at least intense dislike, before we reached the pot of gold on the other side. From loving ourselves at any size to embracing the quirkiness we can't seem to shake, we were all built and wired differently for a reason. And the sooner we welcome this and all that comes with it, the better. The best part? We're not alone. As women, we are all on our own journey of getting to a space where we love ourselves and embrace all that we are.

Seven women have bravely and vulnerably shared their journey of self-love, what they've had to go through to get to a healthy space, and how they make sure it never leaves their side and life.

Melanie Santos

Photo by Taylor Perez

"Self-love is undoubtedly incredibly necessary to a person's well-being."

I think the term "self-love" is incredibly saturated right now, so it's important to give yourself the time and space to define what it means in your own life, that is, without getting stuck in surface-level wellness practices like manicures and solo-dates. I like to pamper myself as much as the next person, but to me, self-love means finding the courage to dive into the deepest, darkest parts of your relationship with yourself. It's becoming comfortable with your shadows and listening to and nourishing your mind, body, and spirit accordingly.

I struggled with loving myself for most of my life due in part to subconscious conditioning from my upbringing and just being a young American girl growing up in the 90s; a time ripe with societal pressure to believe and consume, consume, consume.

Growing up in a traditional Latinx-Caribbean family, I was predisposed to having a contained view of what wellness looked like for "people like us". Severely important topics like mental health were kept hush-hush unless it pertained to major events like a mental breakdown or suicide. I grew up believing that therapy was only for "crazy people".

Years of unaddressed anxiety, depression, and panic attacks prevented me from loving myself fully and not loving myself prevented me from having healthy relationships with others. It wasn't until I had my own mental breakdown where I was debilitated for over a week with anxiety and suicidal thoughts that my family considered that I might actually need help.

Over a decade later, I am still healing through self-care practices like therapy, eating more whole, plant-based foods, and spending honest time with myself, but I have fully acknowledged that there is nothing wrong with me. I love myself fully even though my mental illnesses are something I have to navigate daily. Knowing that I am worth a love that fills every part of me has allowed me to heal my relationships, including the once painful relationship with my husband. Remembering who I am and loving myself like I know it is a full-time job, one that I'm now well-versed in.

Self-love has evolved with me through the years. I am a mother to a beautiful, brilliant brown-skinned girl now, so knowing that my self-love will influence how she forms her thoughts about herself and love, I am deliberate about loving every part of me. Aside from doing the work at home, I've created a career around holding safe spaces to talk about self-love and the dark, uncomfortable "symptoms" that come with it. I take pride in being vulnerable with the world as a way to teach the world to be vulnerable with themselves. That's how important self-love is to me.


Photo by @lifeasro_

"Self-love is having self-respect, confidence, and truly being happy with who you are as a person."

When my dog passed away, I was really depressed and started eating to take my mind off things, thinking it would make me feel better. I began to gain weight and became so disgusted and disappointed in myself because I couldn't fit any of my clothes anymore and I had no one to blame but myself. I stopped taking pictures of myself and started declining invitations to go to events unless I really had to go because I hated how I looked.

I realized that the only person standing in the way of me getting back in shape was myself. I wasn't putting the right food in my body, so I took the initiative to start juicing and working out regularly. I also realized that just because I gained some weight didn't mean I wasn't beautiful. I accepted myself at the stage I was in and really pushed myself to start to get back to how I used to be. I am still not where I want to be yet, but it's a process.

Now, I'm intentional about practicing self-love regularly. I always try to start my day by thinking about one thing that I am grateful for. I also celebrate my wins, no matter how big or small they might be and honestly, I am very patient with myself. I have the tendency to be very hard on myself, so I take moments to acknowledge my persistence and truly appreciate where I am now because it's so much better than where I was years or even months ago.

Charmaine Charmant

Photo by Victoria Saperstein

"To me, self-love means loving yourself unconditionally. It means embracing your individuality and trusting yourself to forge your own path with confidence."

If there's anyone that understands how difficult it can be to love the skin you're in, it's me. I don't think there was ever a time in my life that I wasn't aspiring to reach a goal weight, but I struggled the most in my late teenage years.

When I entered my first year of college, my obsession with weight loss hit an all-time high. One winter break while I was home in NYC, I made my way up to Washington Heights to visit a doctor who wrote diet pill prescriptions for anyone that could shell out $60. The pills essentially suppressed my appetite, and they were not FDA approved. You would take the pill, have coffee for breakfast, and eat spinach with 8oz of meat for dinner. That was it. I followed the diet and spent 45 min in the gym every day; it was such an unhealthy time in my life. My family begged me to stop, my doctor ordered me to stop, and only my closest friends knew what I was doing. I was in that routine on and off for two years.

It took me a while, but I realized I was trying to fix something that wasn't broken. I was so lost in my thoughts that I never stopped to appreciate the abundance of what I had: a beautiful, well-functioning body that was showing up for me every day. It also hit me that I would never be as young and beautiful as I am in the present moment. I used to have random flashbacks to my skinniest moments and think about how crazy it was that in those moments, I was still obsessed with losing weight. That was another major turning point because it made me realize that I had to change the narrative moving forward. I committed to honoring and loving myself no matter what.

It didn't happen overnight. Like all things in life, loving myself required work. Everything is connected, so learning how to listen to my body and follow its lead was important. I started paying attention to everything; the people I was surrounding myself with, the media that I was consuming, and how different situations made me feel. I eliminated all the bad energy in my life and stopped frequenting spaces that made me feel undervalued. I engaged in physical activity that made me feel confident and rested when I needed to.

I am so happy that I learned how to love myself unconditionally. Not only am I healthy, but I now have these amazing memories of embracing my body and empowering other women, which are some of my proudest moments!

To me, self-love means loving yourself unconditionally. It means embracing your individuality and trusting yourself to forge your own path with confidence. It means working towards achieving your wildest dreams with no shame. It means doing the work now so that you can look back at yourself in the future with no regrets.

I embrace self-love by seeking out what happiness means to me as an individual and developing a checklist tailored to my specific needs. I don't need to look like anyone else, obtain the same credentials, or live my life according to anyone else's standards.


Courtesy of LaKeidra

"Self-love is a constant journey."

I've had many moments in my past where my physical appearance caused me to have a difficult time loving myself, even recently. In addition, being in my early 30s and still working through my personal expectations of "where I should be" has also caused me to get down on myself from time to time. It's important to note that self-love isn't just about loving how you look.

Self-love revolves around acceptance and honesty for me. It's accepting who I am, where I am and how I show up. But it's also being honest with myself in instances where I am capable of more or deserve more. It's a balancing act and is about being in tune with yourself and your needs at any given time.

Going to therapy is key! It helps me confront the beliefs I have about myself and think about the practices I engage in day-to-day without knowing. Due to therapy, I have been able to be more self-aware and notice when I'm not feeling my best. When I notice, I take time for myself to breathe, calm my anxiety and affirm myself and then come up with a plan of action if needed. Literally this weekend, I sat down and took a few hours to refocus because I felt myself getting into old habits of comparing my journey to others and feeling less than. It definitely helps to pause and be present. I'm still working on it, but I'm taking control of my life as much as I can.

Miata Shanay 

"As a whole and healed person, I know self-love to be caring enough about myself to unapologetically discard anything that doesn't hold me in the highest regard."

It's funny because about four years ago, I thought "self-love" was a concept people were using just to pawn off on me because I was going through a break-up. It felt like a send-off or a dismissal. Now, as a whole and healed person, I know self-love to be caring enough about myself to unapologetically discard anything that doesn't hold me in the highest regard. Anything that treats me or makes me feel less than? Gotta go! That's friends, jobs, sex partners, AND pants sizes! It's also being grateful for what I've been blessed with. Oftentimes, we long for something more when what we have is enough. His grace is sufficient, and so are my small boobs. They're fine how they are!

I've totally struggled with self-love before. I had no idea where to start because as a teenager, I'd become so attached to the idea that a significant other validated me. I thought, "If this kind of guy chooses me, that means I'm worthy. That means I have permission to feel confident." So, when I got in a relationship with a narcissist and he constantly critiqued and compared me to other women, I longed to be like those women because it'd satisfy him and validate me. NO MA'AM! Never again! Men will have sex with a bottled water; they don't care! Why should I base my confidence on some man?

I overcame my struggles with self-love by doing the work. First, you have to be willing, and I knew the way I treated myself (staying in a narcissistic abusive relationship, ripping myself to shreds in the mirror, skipping meals, etc.) wasn't working for me. It was only adding to my destruction. So, I watched more Iyanla, I read more books, spent time with people who love me unconditionally, I went to church, journaled, and I masturbated. I really did my work. The "work" looks different for everyone.

I still aim to embrace self-love by appreciating all stages of myself. Sometimes when I take my weave out, I have a beat of nervousness because I've grown used to the way I look with a Kardashian middle-part. My natural hair is a short bob. And I have to literally tell myself, "This is beautiful, too." I'm constantly working on re-wiring my brain to work for me and not against me due to my past relationships, and I feel like it's working for me. I'm proud of myself!


Courtesy of Jalysa

"I make time for the things I love and bring me joy. On the flip side, I take myself out of situations that do not serve me well. I think a big part of self-love is setting boundaries and doing what is best for you."

It is really easy to embrace the things we like about ourselves or feel great when we're really good at something. It's also a really beautiful thing to acknowledge and love our "flaws" because they are unique to who we are as a person. Self-love is accepting myself, flaws and all! It's also taking the time to do things that make you happy. Whether it's getting rest, doing your favorite workout, or spending time with loved ones. We are the best version of ourselves when we are happy.

I've been on this journey to self-love/acceptance since I was in high school. There was a point in time where I wished I had a lighter skin complexion, smaller lips, and was two sizes smaller. I really struggled with body image and my appearance for a long time. There have also been times where I felt like I never "fit in" and it really took a toll on my self-esteem. With social media being so big these days, it's easy to compare ourselves to others which is a terrible cycle to get stuck in. Thankfully, there are a few different things that have helped me over the years.

For starters, I am a huge advocate for therapy and know that it has helped me tremendously. I can tell a difference when I go more consistently. The company we keep is also extremely important for numerous reasons and I became very intentional with who I spend time with and energy on. I also made it a point to surround myself with more Black women. It was honestly something I never knew I needed but has been such an amazing life change for me.

I look at how far I have come over the years, and that alone makes me proud of who I am. We all have different struggles; but when we look back and see that we overcame them, who wouldn't love that? I try to surround myself with positive, uplifting, inspiring people and it makes such a difference. I make time for the things I love and bring me joy. On the flip side, I take myself out of situations that do not serve me well. I think a big part of self-love is setting boundaries and doing what is best for you. I take all of these things into account often and I truly believe that I am the best version of myself these days. Once I started implementing them, I noticed that others started telling me, "You look happy." That is one of the best compliments you can receive.

Keisha Nicole

Courtesy of Keisha Nicole

"Self-love for me today is being sensitive to what I need, when I need it and just giving in to ME."

It's work. It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle. It's less self-pity and more of mastering self-control and not allowing your thoughts to consume you negatively. It's appreciating the scars and turning them into beauty marks.

My struggle started with my family. My cousins are mixed with Black and Hispanic and my side of the family is 100% Black. I didn't always feel like I fit in because some of my cousins are lighter-toned and I wanted to be like them. As a young girl, I couldn't understand why I wasn't mixed like them. Then, I was from one of the only two Black families at my elementary school and again, I wanted to be what I saw around me. I can vividly recall the sting I felt one day at school when a little girl said to the kids around me, "Don't play with Keisha, she's a Black girl!" That truly affected me.

I also grew up as the chubby girl. I didn't have the most confidence, so I found other ways to make people like me which was through my personality. I was truly shaped mentally and emotionally by what people thought of me. That's where my struggle with self-love stemmed from.

I think one of the funniest comedians is Katt Williams. People give him a hard time or think he's crazy the way he speaks his mind, but he said something that resonated with me and should with anybody. During one of his standup comedy shows, he spoke to the women about self-esteem and said, "It's called SELF-ESTEEM... esteem of yourself!" That's where self-love begins or is taken away; when we're looking for it outside of ourselves, that influence or stripping of our identity can happen early. And you don't know this when you're a little girl, but over time and the older you get, you really start to see how it's shaped you in the wrong way. So, I had to really reprogram my mind, reprogram my thinking.

I took a step back and realized that I was throwing myself into like-relationships that didn't deserve me. I've always known that I had this really dope energy, but it just seemed like everything around me was sucking that energy FROM me. I literally started throwing myself into work. I became the ambitious, over-achieving, competitive and just "all-in" chick.

When I got my first big break, I left a radio station in L.A. and relocated to Louisville, Kentucky. I created an anti-bullying campaign for kids who were bullied. I knew how it felt to be talked about, judged or left out by other kids for what you didn't have or how you looked. The most pivotal moment of that experience was sitting with that same group of kids afterward, discussing what we had been through. It was supposed to be for the kids, but it ended up being life-changing for me.

Part two of me overcoming was when I started valuing myself and getting into shape. It wasn't about just losing weight, it was about the discipline. Getting disciplined in this one particular area of my life really helped me discipline other things, like my emotions and the people I allowed into my space. I was able to get clarity and focus on just ME. This is when I started learning to truly love ME.

Today, I practice self-love by saying no and not settling for less in one-sided relationships. There were times when I didn't love myself enough, I would stay in a situation where I KNEW someone didn't value me. When I think back on it, I'm glad that despite how I was feeling, I would wake up and tell myself every day that I'm a boss and push through; I had to do that for me and over time I grew stronger. I continue to protect myself from anything that makes me feel less than and I try not to allow any negative energy into my space.

Through my journey, I learned that self-love is unconditional. You have to be patient and you have to be kind to yourself. I value the simple things and make sure that I give myself mental breaks (so underrated). Even if that's just waking up on the weekends to take a bike ride. Self-love for me today is being sensitive to what I need, when I need it and just giving in to ME.

Featured image courtesy of Taylor Perez

Originally published on October 10, 2019

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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