Meet Ashleigh Taylor-Greaves, a 21-year old Pastoral Theology Masters student, a Youth Worker and a Tutor. I took some time to talk to her about her experiences relating to self confidence, body image and what makes her feel beautiful.
What were you like as a teenager?
When I was 14 I didn’t really know who I was; I wanted to stand out a bit but I also wanted to blend in. I was a bit chubby and I didn’t really consider myself to be pretty or anything special.
By the age of 18 I was more confident but for all the wrong reasons. My confidence came from the fact that I knew people would look at me if I dressed a certain way. I knew that if my outfit looked good or if I tried a new hairstyle I would be admired and so my confidence was not from anything internal such as my intelligence but simply from the fact that I knew how to present myself.
How about now? Are you still confident?
Right now, if after talking to someone the only thing they said about me was that I looked good, I’d be very upset. Now, my confidence comes from the fact that I know who I am and I know who God has called me to be. I don’t know the details of my life but I know that there is someone who has me and holds me and in God I move and live and have my being; that was the fundamental thing that I had to learn in order to change where my confidence came from.
How did you make the change?
It was hard, it was a journey. I had to change the people I hung around with and the things I watched and read. My focus had to change. Also, studying for my degree made me realise that there is so much more in the world to focus on than lipstick! There are people out there with real issues and I’m called to help them so suddenly my appearance didn’t feel very important.
Tell me how you feel about your hair.
I always wanted a perm when I was younger and my Mum would never let me have one. I associated perms with long hair and I thought if I had one then my hair would grow. When I turned 16 she finally let me have one but every time I got perms, my hairdresser would cut my hair so I grew to stop liking them and decided to grow my hair out and then cut off the relaxed ends. When I grew my hair out purposely, it was the first time I actually saw my hair in its natural state. I was so used to washing it, blow-drying it and putting it in braids that I had never actually taken the time to stop and look at what God had given me and appreciate it. I realised that what I had wasn’t ‘just okay’ but that it was beautiful. It helped me to feel more confident because I had to learn to put more time and effort into my hair and it helped me come to terms with myself and feel that “I’m beautiful the way I am.”
Do you struggle with the way you look? Do you have any insecurities?
I wish that I were taller and curvier. I don’t like my athletic body shape; it doesn’t make me feel sexy and womanly and I wish I had an hour-glass figure like other girls. But, I’ve realised that there’s only so much I can change about my natural body shape and that God made me like this. I try and overcome this by focusing on the things I like about myself such as my nice eyes and even my fingernails! I do wish I had bigger hips but I focus on trying to work with what I have and finding a style that suits my shape.
Recently, I’ve started going to the gym and it’s so amazing! The gym makes me feel so good about myself and it’s the kind of good that I don’t feel the need to flaunt. I just feel happy with myself and I love that.
Do you ever have ‘ugly-days?’ How do you deal with them?
Yes! I have days where I just look in the mirror and think ‘ugh, you’re so ugly’ but usually those days are linked to stress so I take time out to pamper myself. I’m studying to be a Pastor and we were told from the very beginning that we are the tools that God is using to reach people and so I realised that I simply do not have the time to self-destruct; I have a greater cause.
So when I’m feeling bad about myself I call my best friend India and she listens to me moan and she makes jokes. She’ll tell me that I’m beautiful and cool and although at the time I still feel like rubbish, it slowly starts to sink in. One of my main struggles is feeling inadequate – going into ministry as a young woman and leading a church whilst still trying to find myself is crazy! Sometimes I think, “God, I cannot do this; You called the wrong person,” but in those times I just pour my heart out to God in front of the mirror and tell Him that I don’t feel good about myself and I need help. I tell God that I am struggling.
To make myself feel better physically, I surround myself with the beautiful people in my life because if they think that I’m worth being around then maybe I am.
We blame a lot of our problems on the devil or the church or people around us but there is a lot that we can change in our lives to make us feel better. I’m learning that we can do a lot to safeguard our emotions and I’ve been in dark places but I know that you can come out of that and learn to love yourself.
Do you ever find yourself comparing yourself to other women?
It’s hard to admit but I used to compare myself to my younger sister a lot and that was very unhealthy because it damages what is supposed to be a beautiful relationship and the perception you have of each other. My sister has light brown eyes, thick hair and she is really tall and elegant and I was always the scatter-brained one with stained clothes so I used to think if I was like her then maybe people would like me more. A couple of years ago, for my sister’s birthday we did a photo-shoot together and as she was getting her solo shots taken I thought to myself “wow, she is so beautiful” and so I told her. Surprisingly she said “That’s what I was thinking when you were getting your solo shots done!” So here I was, wanting to look like her but at the same time she wanted to look like me. That showed me that there is always someone else that we admire and want to be like but you don’t know what he or she is thinking about you. The best way I found to deal with that is to instead of wishing I were like someone else, I tell him or her that I appreciate them. So instead of being jealous of my friends and their qualities, I just tell them how great they are. That helps me feel better and makes them feel good too.
What makes you feel beautiful?
I feel most beautiful when I have done something kind for someone else such as helping one of my students. Physically, after a workout I feel SO good. You know that post-workout strut? I love that feeling. I also feel beautiful when I take care of myself; putting on a facemask or doing my nails makes me feel good.
And finally, what advice do you have for other ladies struggling to love themselves?
Firstly, no matter what you do there will be someone who finds you attractive. There will also be someone who doesn’t. 30 stone and can barely move? There are people that are into that. Dark eyelids or dark spots on your face? Some people find those traits very attractive, I’m being serious. I’ve talked to people. So if you’re thinking that no one can ever love you there is always someone who will love what you have.
What’s 1000 times more important is what you think of yourself. How do you turn hate to love? Part of what I did was investing in my natural self. I used to wear a lot of foundation to hide my uneven skin tone until I realised it didn’t really solve the problem. So instead I got a good skin care range with lots of vitamins and my skin looks better. Now I don’t have to hide it, and I’ve told my unconscious self that I’m worth the investment. That’s just one example. Invest in your natural self. You have to get the message into your psyche that you’re worth the investment. Read what God has to say about you. Write those passages out in notebooks. Make it your wallpaper. Say it in the mirror. Walk in nature. Enjoy it. Treat yourself to natural beauty all around you. Pretty soon you’ll realise you’re a part of it. It takes a while, but what I found was taking care of myself made me much less willing to take disrespect from people, to allow other people to make me feel bad. So ladies. You have to find a way to invest in your natural self. Make yourself worth the investment.