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On self love and why it's important

I wasn't always the confident and well put together woman that I am today. For many years I struggled with my weight (or lack thereof) and hated my thick unruly hair. My teeth looked like the jagged edges of a picket fence and I spent many days and nights wishing that I looked more like my sister who was petite, had long beautiful wavy hair and overall had more refined features. When I was about nine or ten my family and I were at an amusement park and as I proceeded to walk into the ladies bathroom someone had mistaken me for a boy. I was tall for my age, skinny, and my hair was cut into a curly afro because my mother either did not know how to manage it or simply did not want to. I really don't know, but I remember shrugging the incident off at the time because I didn't want anyone knowing how much it had hurt me. That event was something that I carried with me for a long time.

My hair and weight are issues that I've spent the majority of my life battling. I've experimented with everything from jheri curls to relaxers to keratin treatments to weight gainers to drinking cases of Nutrament, Periactin (pills and in liquid form), even stuffing my face with plates of arroz con gandules. For most of my life I was as skinny as a twig and as flat as a board. I was genetically made up to be a slim woman and instead of embracing it I'd try hiding my slimness by wearing multiple layers of clothes. For the most part that was okay, except when summertime came around and the NYC humidity made it almost unbearable to wear anything let alone 3 or 4 layers of clothes.

For a long time I tried everything to fit into the standard of beauty defined by society and by my family. Those little comments that they think are harmless can in fact become our inner voice and if we are not conscious of it can let it ruin our self-esteem and our lives. In my life, my mother and sister are always the first to let me know if I look too fat or too skinny, if my hair isn't up to par, or if I'm wearing something that they disapprove of. Even when I'm lounging around at home my sister disapproves of the scarves I wear on my head; or the fact that I really enjoy wearing my husband's pajamas instead of the typical female nightwear. To her, I should wear something more feminine. At 37 I've learned to silence the negative voices so now when someone disapproves of how I look or what I say I let it roll off my back. I've realized that whatever it is about me that bothers them is their issue not mine. It wasn't always like this and it takes a strong sense of self and self discovery to not allow another person's perception of us to define us.

It wasn't until I reached my thirties that I finally started to put on weight. Coincedentally (or not) it was until my thirties that I also finally started to love the skin I was in. When I turned 30 I decided that instead of focusing on those things that I wasn't happy with I would instead focus on the things that I loved about me. I also decided that I would spend some time thinking about the things I didn't like and ask myself why I had an issue with those things. Once I did that, I discovered that the things I thought I didn't like about myself had all been issues that other people had with me. Once I realized that, I began releasing all my self-deprecating thoughts and behaviors. I started slowly loving myself and everything that made me uniquely me. I finally learned how to manage and love my beautiful thick hair and though I was still slim, I also learned to love my body. Once I started loving myself (flaws and all) I started feeling a lot happier and more confident. Now, every day that I awake I give thanks for all of the things that make me uniquely me revelling in the fact that there is no other person in this world like me. I wake up with purpose and with a desire to be my best self. It is what I hope to pass down to my daughter. I want to make sure that her inner voice reminds her of how beautiful she is even if she does look different.

Today I along with relationship expert Sujeiry Gonzalez and meia personality Leticia Reyes had the opportunity to participate on a panel about self-love and being self-first. The most important thing that I believe I said to the students of St. Joseph's College is that once you compare yourself to others you take away from your own uniqueness and the thing that makes you special. No one ever remembers the person that fits in. It's the person that stands out that they won't be able to forget. Embrace your individuality, it's your trademark.

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