Unconsciously, I think I’ve always loved myself. In charting the the troughs and peaks of my self-love journey, I can easily say that in my lowest points, there was an innate desire to fully accept my body, my hair, skin, ethics and drive.

It’s so easy to remember the points in which you felt very disconnected from the shape you inhabit. I was raised with the belief that the body I have never really belonged to me. It was on loan from someone far greater than me and that I should respect it as I would anything else. For the longest time that’s what I did. I tried to treat this borrowed gift as though it was solid gold and never questioned it.

When I entered my teenage years, that all changed. I became aware of my hips, my breasts, my nose, my acne prone skin, my chemically treated hair and who was getting attention and who wasn’t. Internally it caused conflict because I was under the impression that gold was admired by many. I’d done so well to try and look after myself, give or take a few knocks and scraps; so why didn’t I feel loved?

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When you feel out of sorts with your body, the disconnect works its way into the mind. I closed myself off from all I knew, all that I was regarded in high esteem and began to look elsewhere for comfort. I discovered the clitoris, documented sex, poetry, riot grrrl, zines, foreign films and music.

In my own way, I rejected the upbringing that I felt had policed me and tried hard to become unrecognisable. If I could shake the guilt I had for loving myself as a sexual being, I would be on the road to enlightenment, right? Oh man, was I wrong. Everything I felt, I took on deeply.

I started a photo diary to track the changes in my body, find the right angle, right look, right shade of darkness that could hide my insecurities but heighten what I really admired. One day it would be a fingernail, another day a leg hair; whatever it was, it all had to matter. It all had to fit into the jigsaw that was my frame.

My clothes became baggy, heavy, block solid colours – androgynous. I didn’t want anything to emphasise my femininity and in a weird way, I wanted so badly to not draw attention to the fact that I was exploring myself. I was looking into what piqued my interest sexually; I was still ashamed of what I really was.

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Me @ Guerilla Poetry Night, by Nina Ward

All changed once I’d left home to study. I’d finished my first serious relationship and I had new channels open to me. I became very aware of my body not simply as a sexual body, but a sexual black body, an intelligent, forward thinking, zine editing, afro-european black body  – an identity no one had the right to take away from me.

There were many mistakes along the way, but I came to a place of regularly conversing with other women of colour which led to a firm understanding of my body and my desires. I have been surrounded by systems that profit from my self-loathing. It’s expected that a black woman should hate herself so much so she is willing to become anything other than what she is and this breaks my heart.

For too long I vested interest into white idealism that was not equipped to handle my greatness. Look around, you see black beauty in everything. Be it through reading, relationships, travelling or activism; I am growing closer to understanding the light that is within me. It is not given, nor is it bought. I reject the idea that my beauty is on loan or is for rent; I am beautiful because I am here.

 

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