“Chapters of Self-Love” Part 1: Childhood to Middle School

I recently purchased the Self-Love pack from We’re Not Really Strangers (WNRS) after playing the original game a few times last year. If you have not heard of WNRS yet, it is known as a game that is meant to foster deeper conversations between people who play. I highly recommend it.  Many may not know that WNRS sells much more than their infamous card game – they have expansion packs, clothing, and other merchandise.

Over the holidays, I spent some time flipping through the cards looking for a prompt to journal about. I came across this card:

As a I thought about how I would answer this question, I realized that in order to name my current chapter, I was forced to reflect on all the previous chapters in my “self-love journey”.

I debated whether this would make a good topic for a blog post– mainly because I do not want this to come off as a cry for pity. I do not regret any chapter of my journey as it has ultimately contributed to the confidence I feel today. Assuming you’re reading this, it means I decided to be a little vulnerable. Here we go!  

I have always taken the “fake it, ‘til you make it” approach when it comes to confidence. Confidence like many other traits and skills can be trained. As a result, I like to think most people I meet believe I am someone with decent self-esteem. While this may be true these days, there have been years of my life where this was certainly not the case yet many probably could not tell. I faked it quite well. Many people experience this growing up and continue to experience it in life. Putting on a performance for others despite how you actually feel about yourself is a concept I share about a lot.

My Perspective on (and Dissonance with) Self-Love

Self-love and whether or not I want to focus on it is something I have struggled with. I know in mainstream culture, self-love is often lauded as the penultimate goal to strive for. Now, I will say that I think self-love is pivotal to finding contentment with our lives and not settling for situations that are harmful to us. Concurrently, I also think we should all prioritize opportunities to de-centre ourselves and contribute to a larger vision. And yes, I do feel some dissonance with saying this and having a blog named after myself and on my life. However, I try to use this blog as a space to reflect and work by myself while having various other pockets of my life dedicated to the service of others. 

Childhood, chapter entitled Bliss

Young & blissful

As a kid, I definitely would not have described myself as insecure. I remember loving elementary school. I immersed myself in school plays, even playing a lead role in grade 5, and had friends I adored. I will say, it was during my childhood that my race and its implications became part of my awareness. Over time, I realized some things like how my hair was different and could not be styled the same ways as other little girls. Sometimes I wished it did because “different” felt equivalent to “worse”. I have written about this time period in my 2020 BLM piece entitled Awakening:

I realized being Black was different and to some people, “a big deal.” I became awake to it. I did not grow up initially thinking my skin colour was something of note. The people I loved and admired the most were Black. Some people were also Black or not Black – it was that simple. Just like any non-Black person does not grow up thinking their race is going to be this definitive aspect of their identity, I grew up the same.

I was not awakened to this fact on one particular day of elementary school, but rather it was a compilation of what I saw in mass media and having other children comment on our differences. There were few Black characters or even Disney Princesses when I was young to dress up as in costumes. There has always been odd commentary when people try to dress up as characters that do not “look like them” – as if this really should matter. Suddenly, I was 7 years old and very aware of my Blackness.

Otherwise, I would say I lived in the bliss that is unique to childhood. This might be because I was lucky, the kids I interacted with were kind to me. Kids were not yet scrolling social media finding flaws in themselves and their peers.

Still, I was unaware of what was to come with everyone’s favourite time: puberty.

Middle School, chapter entitled Instability

Me, still blissfully unaware of what’s to come!

The beloved years of puberty. Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you see it), middle school encompassed three of the worst years of my life.

I recently watched an Op-Doc by The New York Times. They interviewed adolescent girls on their experiences with the mental and physical changes of this life stage. Trust, through the generations, this time remains trying to say the last.

“It was never anything I thought about and then suddenly its become one of my biggest insecurities.” A statement made by one of the girls in the video, resonated heavily with my experience over ten years ago. The feeling of yourself changing, the belief that more eyes are on you, and the unrealistic societal expectations you learn can be a punch in the face for a once blissful child.

Puberty Doesn’t Turn Us Into ‘Aliens.’ We’re Just Girls | Op-Docs – The New York Times

Due to some boundary changes in my school district, I started middle school with a different cohort of kids than I had gone through elementary school with. All the friends I had grown to adore were no longer part of my day-to-day. Thus, most of middle school, I felt a lot of instability in my relationships.

Anyone who knows me well, knows I am a textbook extrovert. I thrive around people. Unstable relationships very quickly led to instability in my self-esteem. Over time, I just wanted to do anything I could to find approval or recognition from my “popular” peers.

I wished I could have the $200 Ugg boots other girls had instead of my $15 dupe from Stitches. (In hindsight, what a great deal.) I watched other girls in my grade develop much earlier than me and much more than I ever did – as well as the attention it brought them.

Looking back, the fact that I did not fit the description I thought was the “prettiest” or most desirable perpetually disappointed me. On the surface, this seems like a typical example of pubescent insecurity. In reality, I believe it was the manifestation of my desire to be surrounded by the safe friendships I had in elementary school.

Today, I have to be mindful of how much my affinity for staying close to my loved ones can affect my mental state. I mentioned in my last blog how fearful I used to be about graduating medical school and leaving my comfortable community in Kingston. Upon reflection, I realized it connects back to the same elements of my personality that affected me in middle school. My anxious attachment style, likely originating from the need of the first humans to develop strong bonds for survival, can torment me if I do not recognize it.

To Be Continued

In Part 2 we will tackle High School into Young Adulthood and how I found confidence. While we are ending off Part 1 on a bit of a low, I will preface by sharing that my middle school experience fuelled life-changing decisions I made in high school. Until next blog!

As always, thank you to everyone that reads these blogs! Please feel free to reach out if you enjoyed or have feedback.

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