The relationship we have and nurture with self lays the foundation for how we relate to and connect with others in our lives. Assessing the issues that discourage self-love from prospering are key in order to repair and reignite the freedom that comes when we finally believe the words "you are enough."
I chatted with self-love advocate and lifestyle entrepreneur Shelah Marie – who you may remember from when her 2017 photo of doing yoga with boyfriend, rapper Ace Hood, went viral. Shelah's mission is to create a movement of total self-love and liberation for women of color through her platform Curvy, Curly, Conscious – a place where "self-help" meets "real talk" through virtual and offline events and retreats.
Shelah opens up about her healing journey and gives tips for others repairing one of most important relationships a woman will ever have: The one she has with herself.
To fully understand how self-love evolves over time, we must start at the beginning – childhood. "I grew up as the only person of color growing in my home..the only Black person in my neighborhood. I was the only one with hair like mine, skin like mine. I couldn't figure out why I was different. My [immediate] family wasn't open to talking about it."
"Because I had fundamentally saw the world through race at a young age...what I saw was a big deal. Everyone didn't look the same and it mattered. I learned to deconstruct the performance of race around me...I was aware of people's emotions and saw things that people weren't saying. I always wanted to create something that I never saw."
Acting, the performance of characters, and storytelling became a passion of Shelah's.
Her 2010 move to New York City to enroll in a Master's program at the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts would be the domino that set off a chain of important events in her life.
"When you're in New York, it's like being a hamster on a treadmill with a piece of cheese in front. That's the grand illusion with New York. My experience in New York changed who I was. I learned a lot about other cultures, languages, and how to appreciate the small things. I couldn't afford TV or cable or a car. I didn't have disposable income. I learned to exist on very little. I put everything into my craft."
From juggling multiple jobs, to dealing with seeing her friends "making it", Shelah became severely depressed and her anxiety peaked.
"I was always surrounded by people, but I was always alone in my mind. My self-esteem was so low and I started to attract people that reflected that. I attracted men that were treating me in an unhealthy way. One relationship got extremely abusive."
An argument turned into Shelah's then partner telling her, in front of her roommates, "Yeah, b***h. You're a b***h and I hope I'm first person to ever call you that, b***h."
Enough was enough.
"I saw myself as a child and I realized the only other person to call me a b***h in front of people was my mom. This is where my spiritual journey kicked up a notch. I told myself that I get it. Whatever pain and hurt that is within me that feels the need to manifest this man to reflect my beliefs at me this strongly...this will never happen again. I will never be at this place again. Whatever I have to do to heal it, I will do. From then on, I put myself through Shelah's school of self."
Shelah recognized that in order to reach her potential, she would have to learn to navigate past the toxicity in her life. Over the next few years, self-healing became her priority. Four important things led the way for Shelah's transformation: Talk therapy, working with a healer, reading, and meditation. This work allowed Shelah to confront the trauma that was hiding in her subconscious. She was committed to equipping herself with the information so she could start to understand what she had been through in life.
Meditation was especially helpful as it allowed her to "get friendly" with herself. "I realized I was an adult and didn't know myself and have never sat with myself. I'd used men, career, work to distract me."
The reality of sitting in and embracing pain is something that many women of color often accept as a part of life, Shelah believes.
"'I'ma talk to Jesus. I'ma go to church. I'm going to pray about it...get a new outfit, you'll be fine.' This is what we tell each other. It doesn't work. Black women are comfortable with sharing their pain just from a place of 'This is just how it is.' When I used to listen to a lot of Gospel, I would become addicted to how much pain I would feel. Sometimes we can get addicted to that space of talking about the pain, living in the pain, and being in the pain. That space is part of the process but I'm more interested in moving beyond that."
"Whatever pain and hurt that is within me that feels the need to manifest this man to reflect my beliefs at me this strongly...this will never happen again. I will never be at this place again. Whatever I have to do to heal it, I will do."
Shelah's call for Black women? Listen to yourself. Honor your pain. Allow yourself to heal. Allow yourself to be connected and feel supported from within.
If you're starting out on the journey, Shelah recommends finding a therapist that caters to your needs, listening to guide meditations like The Meditation Mixtape by Shelah Marie, and filling yourself with knowledge. The books that aided her include A Return To Love by Marianne Williamson, Codependent No More by Melody Beattie, Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping, and The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
If she really wanted to focus on healing, Shelah knew that she'd have to be radical in how she invested in her learning and the expectations she set for those she surrounded herself with. "My healing was my job, and it still is. Everyone in my [tribe] knows this. Anyone I can keep around...if they are not actively healing, they will be phased out of [my life.]"
Shelah's healing journey allowed her to embrace the unknown when it unexpectedly appeared. She was new to loving herself and having standards in a relationship, when she met now boyfriend Ace Hood, a few years ago in New York City. Upon first meeting him after an invite to a New York club during All-Star Weekend, Shelah knew there was something special.
"He was in the back. There were all these women and celebrities around him. [Ace] saw me and parted the divider and went, 'Shelah, hi! I love your videos on Instagram and you're so funny.' He had this big smile and his eyes lit up. I said to myself, 'I'm fucked. If I'm not supposed to go for it, I'm going for it. I don't care what happens.'"
As with any relationship, it didn't come without challenges – especially in the beginning. Though Ace was attracted to her personality and who she was – the two had to learn to coexist and understand their two very different worlds.
"I struggled for a while trying to fit a circle in a square peg and tried to make myself into what I thought a rapper's girlfriend should be. That didn't last long. [I had to understand that] this is who I am. I'm Shelah. This is me."
Though people had questions about how their relationship would work, Shelah emphasized the notion that you can redefine yourself and humans are layered individuals. When Ace became interested in learning more about the benefits of yoga, the two decided to go on a journey together. She saw something in Ace and knew that they could help each other become the best versions of themselves.
Even if you're not in a relationship and find yourself longing for companionship from a partner, Shelah reminds us not to wallow in self-pity. "When I was in NY [before meeting Ace], I was single and depressed. I had to be proactive about the feelings I wanted [and] I'd fuse that into my meditations. Do not leave it in the hands of someone else to provide you what you need. Date yourself. Do nice things. Look good for yourself! Sometimes I'd get sad [or jealous], but I'd remind myself, 'Man, I feel so supported. I feel so loved.'"
"I had to be proactive about the feelings I wanted [and] I'd fuse that into my meditations. Do not leave it in the hands of someone else to provide you what you need."
Helping other women of color heal has been the core of Shelah's personal mission and her recent entrepreneurial pursuits as well. She mentions, "As that little Shelah [experienced], I wanted to create something that I never saw. With Curvy, Curly, Conscious, I was responding to what was being given to me. My Instagram started to grow. I did an event, it was a success. Four city tour, success. Black women believed in me. I needed to keep giving them more. I wanted to produce high quality, high level beautiful experiences for Black women to heal and commune with each other because I believe we deserve it. Black women deserve beauty. It reaffirms our humanity."
However, Shelah again found herself having to confront deep fears and insecurities that would have stunted her ability to deliver on her promise.
"The biggest challenges as an entrepreneur have been overcoming all of my individual fears. You know how much courage it takes to take people's hard earned money in advance for something? You have to deliver. I wasn't a business person. My background was in acting. I had to invite people in [such as bookkeeper to help me.] I had to [overcome] my own fears about not being good enough and not knowing enough."
For others looking to build a brand in the self-help space, Shelah notes that investigating your personal strength is a must.
"What skills do you have that everyone goes, 'How do you do that?' A lot of people try to copy and emulate. The reason my account grew was because my strong suit is sharing my story and talking. You don't have to have a big following to have a big business. Find your zone of genius and follow that. Just because social media is poppin, doesn't mean everyone has to have a page that's popping. Follow what you're good at."
Shelah's latest project is her new three-day UNRULY retreat slated for August 2019 in Cancun, Mexico. Shelah's hope is that the event will serve as place for women to be who they truly are, surrounded by supportive women so that they can come together and dismantle rules that don't apply to them and create rules that do. (A mandatory turn-up is also included.) Registration opens on Friday, February 15 at 9 AM EST. To get on the wait list, click here.
When remembering where this journey all started, Shelah had some words she'd tell her younger self, the little girl struggling to figure out her story. "You're doing great. You're doing really well. It's fine."
For those of us also navigating the fluid waters of nurturing self-love, Shelah says, "We live in a society that is extremely driven. There's a little window into everyone else's life now. There's Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes it looks like everyone is moving at 100mph and you're just moving slow. Don't watch what everyone else is doing. You are doing fine, too."
Our self-love journeys are not monolithic, but one thing is true for us all: Growth is possible.
For more of Shelah, follow her on Instagram.
Featured image by Latoya Osborne.