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

When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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