For so long, when I was around nine or 10, I always had someone I wanted to be like. I watched older celebrities or women and wished to be like them. I wished for my hair to grow long and straight, to wear makeup and have nice clothes and expensive shoes. Although my mom raised me not to care about expensive things and not to want to fit in with the rest of the kids, I still had my times when I wished I wasn’t me.
I wished I could be someone else for at least a day just to see what it would be like. Over time though I learned the idiom is right: all that glitters isn’t gold.
I watched a lot of television as a child and not just cartoons. I was more into TV drama for some reason like this show called “The Game”; I watched it every day after school on BET. It taught me a lot of life lessons as a young kid. I learned things I probably shouldn’t have known yet. By the time I was 10 one of my favorite movies, Waiting to Exhale, taught me that a woman shouldn’t sleep with a married man and then believe he would leave his wife and kids for her.
There were also those typical teenage movies about kids in high school with the “cool girls” or the “weirdos.” At the end of the movie the main character always came to the realization that she should like herself for who she was. She learned to stop trying to fit in with everybody because eventually she would find someone who liked her for her.
Eventually I found people to fit in with. I had no problem making friends but as I got older and started to know myself more, there were certain people I felt more comfortable to be around.
A lot of people see me as outspoken—sometimes loud, someone who has no problem with speaking her mind. But when I was younger I was shy and quiet.
I remember being in first grade and the teacher making a joke about getting me a microphone because I hated speaking up in front of people. Now I’ll speak about something without even being spoken to. I was a go with the flow girl. If you asked me for my opinion, I’d just agree with anything you thought. Not that I couldn’t think for myself, but I was so scared of being wrong or thinking if I said this, people probably wouldn’t like me or I’d sound dumb. What finally got me out of that mindset was seeing people who spoke up and got something out of that.
Middle school was definitely my breaking point in using my voice more. I joined MAC Scholars and being around people who were like me an African American really helped me to be proud of being black. In elementary school there were a mixture of races, but when I got to middle school I noticed a change. I started seeing fewer people of my color in classes and lost my confidence. The kids I was in class with were really smart. They would know about facts that I thought were odd but apparently it was something everyone should know. Like certain countries or historical people that I’ve never heard of.
But when I joined Mac Scholars, I made relationships with people who saw something in me that I couldn’t see at the time.
I turned into this girl who was in school plays and hosted the school talent show. I have a brother who is a year older than me and so people mainly knew me as his little sister, but once I started talking more everyone knew me as Atiyah. They knew me for things I did or said that left a mark on them. I’ve always had people behind me who supported me and believed in me; the only thing that stopped me from stepping out my comfort zone was me.
What I’ve recently grew from was having friends who are black and still have that mindset of “black people don’t do stuff like that.” If something seemed like only white people would do it, I had black friends who wouldn’t do it. That was something that always stopped me from being me. For example, me being part of the school newspaper was something that I hesitated with. Because there weren’t many black people I knew or saw in newspaper. A lot of people told me I was weird for doing it until they actually started seeing the things I was doing, and they realized it wasn’t so “boring” after all.
I know many black people who are so stuck on “being black” or trying not to be like white people that they don’t get anywhere in life. I used to think if the black kids weren’t doing it, then I’d seem less black so I wouldn’t do it.
I was always a smart kid, but for some reason I didn’t feel as confident or as smart as I should have. As I started to see people who believed in me, it boosted me up and to believe in myself, and I know not too many people have that. So for me to have a support system I felt more blessed. By the time I got to high school my low self esteem was kicked out the door. I stopped worrying about how others might feel about me because, at the end of the day, the only person that mattered was me.
I think a lot of people start to lose themselves at some point, and they need to learn that the only person that matters is them. There was a time when I wanted to be like my other friends so bad that I missed out on things that I wanted to do.
And, oh, my goodness, when it came to boys, I would sometimes try and make sure I always looked good because I wanted to be seen. I finally realized, though, that those “friends” just weren’t for me and and if anyone is going to see me, they’re going to see me for me.
I hate to see great minded people dumb themselves down to fit in with others. I know not everyone is as bold or confident as I am now, but I wish to see more people stepping out and doing what they want to do without caring what others may think. All of us should be able to wear what we want to wear because we want to. Not because we think someone else may like it.
If you have something on your mind say it. If you want to wear that cute shirt that you saw at Walmart, buy it and wear it. Who cares what people think or say? As my pastor always say, “It doesn’t matter what no one else may think because they don’t have a heaven or a hell to send you to.”
What does self love mean to you? Let us know in the comments below.