Meet Shade; a doctor working in obstetrics and gynaecology. In her spare time she enjoys reading, music and keeping fit. Shade is also a passionate writer and has an amazing blog over at www.girlwiththafro.com. Her style of writing is hilarious and she discusses great topics. I caught up with Shade to talk about confidence, beauty and what it means to her.
How do you define confidence?
Having knowledge of your worth and knowledge of your potential to be great at things. For me, confidence is having a security and an unmovable assurance about who you are and what makes you special despite what the world around you says.
Would you describe yourself as a confident person? Has it always been this way?
Yes, I am a confident person. I think confidence is a journey and everyone has suffered with low confidence at some point. As humans we have so many things pulling and pushing at us at once, so it’s natural for us to have fluctuating confidence. I do think there is a certain level that I have reached and I am really grateful but it was a journey for me to get to this point. Five years ago I wouldn’t have said I was this confident.
What were you like as a teenager?
I always felt like I was the “ugly friend!” I think as black women a lot of our insecurities around our looks come from things like our hair and our skin tone. I grew up in a group of friends who were mostly light-skinned with long hair and I was the dark-skinned one with short hair. Guys didn’t give me a lot of attention and I always felt like I wasn’t the pretty one. The only thing I was confident about was my intelligence because I had always been told that I was smart, so I took that on as my identity. I was the nerdy awkward smart girl and I pretended that I didn’t care that I wasn’t seen as the pretty one. It took me ages to even look at myself and see myself as pretty because I had always felt ugly. I would be really surprised when guys gave me attention. I didn’t like my face and I wished I could fix it – I hated my jaw line, my nose and other things.
In terms of body image, I’ve always been on the smaller side and so I’ve never had any issues with weight loss. I’ve always liked my body because I’ve always found it easy to find clothes . Also, I think my body shape falls more in line with what mainstream culture tells us that female bodies should be. I was never teased about being fat. My only issues have been other people saying things like “Why are you so small?” or “You need to eat more” and “Are you anorexic?”
So how did you get to the point where you are now, where you can say you feel pretty?
It came in stages. The first stage was when I was about 14 and I began to develop a relationship with God. I felt affirmed outside of my accomplishments and I think the idea that God doesn’t love me for what I can bring to the table but simply because of who I am, made a difference to how I saw myself and my self-worth outside of my looks.
Growing up, my parents focused on our education and we weren’t the kids that had the latest Nike trainers or cool clothes so as I got older and started earning my own money I started investing in my appearance and appreciating myself more. For example, when I started wearing contact lenses, I thought “wow I have nice eyes” but I hadn’t noticed that before because they were always hiding behind glasses. Also, I grew more confident as I started learning how to carry myself as a woman, finding clothes that suited me and learning to do my own hair. Becoming interested in my natural hair taught me a lot because I had to learn to appreciate it for what it was; I had to understand that it wasn’t straight and it wasn’t as long as I wanted it to be [at the time] but it was mine.
One thing that I did that was helpful, as a dark-skinned woman with natural hair, was that I looked on the internet for images of people who looked like me and had similar hair to me. I made myself absorb media that changed the way I thought about myself. For me, it was important that I allowed myself to see woman who looked like me and I could not rely on the media because people like me are not often shown. I thought to myself, that if these women that I was looking at were beautiful then how can I, also with similar skin and hair, think of myself as unattractive?
I think as Christian women we can tend to shy away from being too involved in our appearance for fear of vanity and we’re almost taught that it is a virtue to be frumpy or not care about your appearance. I don’t believe that; I believe that God loves beauty. Look at creation, flowers are not just functional, they are also beautiful and so I don’t believe that the way I dress or do my hair has to be purely functional. I also don’t necessarily think beauty has to be what modern society says it is. Every woman should know the right colours to suit her skin tone or the clothes that suit her shape and it is okay to look in the mirror and think “I look nice today.” If the Creator is happy with His creation, why should the creation not be happy with it?
Do you every find yourself comparing yourself with other women? How do you overcome this?
Definitely. As women, society encourages us to see each other as competition. If you look in the media there is always the ‘who’s better?’ campaign, for example Beyonce vs Rhianna. Nobody is ever fabulous at what they do by themselves, there always has to be a rival. Especially in this social media age, there is a big focus on women constantly perfecting themselves.
It’s hard to walk down the street and not see someone and think “I wish I looked like her.” When I catch myself thinking like this, I say a little prayer and ask God “Help me not to cultivate a spirit of envy.” Instead of seeing the woman as competition, I try to find something to appreciate about them. It’s a way to turn it on its head. So I’ll try to go up to them and tell them how good they look. It’s a way of fostering a spirit of appreciation as opposed to competition. There is always someone who may be more beautiful than you so if you go through life constantly comparing yourself, you’ll never be happy. Instead of comparing myself, I focus on what I love about myself, my talents, my appearance and the good things that I bring.
Do you ever have “ugly days?” What do you do about them?
Yes, and those days usually coincide with my “I can’t be bothered” days. You know, those days where I can’t be bothered to iron my clothes or find a decent outfit. I’m one of those people who are naturally lazy when it comes to my appearance, especially around my time of the month when I feel bloated or my skin is breaking out – I just feel rubbish. To get over those days, I put on an outfit that I know I look good in, we all have at least one of those, and I also feel better when I tell someone how I’m feeling because I find that they will affirm me. I don’t think you should rely on other people for your self-esteem but it helps when I share how I feel with someone else how rubbish I feel and then they tell me, actually no you do look good.
When do you feel most confident and beautiful?
When I’ve been consistently eating healthily and working out because I feel that healthy energy and my skin is naturally glowing. Also, I feel confident when I’m on holiday and it’s really hot because usually my skin looks good as a result of the sun and all of the water I drink. On a Saturday morning at Church I feel good too because I have more time to make more of an effort with my appearancee and so that makes me confident.
What advice would you give to other women who are struggling to accept themselves for who they are?
I have 5 tips:
1) Develop your relationship with God. You have to have an assurance that is outside of your appearance and your intelligence that affirms that you are worthy, regardless of what you work as or what size you are.
2) Focus on being healthy, because when you take time to take care of your body it is a form of loving yourself and seeing your body as important and this helps you to feel confident.
3) If you feel that you are not confident in your hair or clothes, ask for help. You could see a personal shopper or simply ask someone you know who dresses well to help you shop or give you tips. There is nothing wrong with finding the things that you don’t do well in terms of your appearance and changing it and I’m sure if you were to ask someone they’d be more than happy to help.
4)Be careful about the images that you feed on. If you’re constantly reading magazines that feature women that are the opposite of what you look like or have a body image that doesn’t look like yours then that will wear down your confidence. We don’t realise but it has a big impact. Look for women that look like you and find beauty you can relate to and reflect on and allow your beauty to be influenced by that.
5) Finally, when you have an ‘ugly day’ hug yourself and tell yourself that tomorrow won’t be as bad!
Thank you Shade, it was a pleasure interviewing you. I really hope that you all can be inspired and encouraged by her words. Remember – you ARE beautiful and you matter.
What are your top tips when it comes to learning to love yourself? Comment below.