The teen experience: "Finding Myself" Kaylah, 19

Being a brown, thick, girl is hard when you’re in a school full of white, skinny people. Before going to high school, I had a preconceived notion that it would consist of parties and boyfriends. The number of parties you went to and the boys’ attention you caught equated to how pretty or desirable you are. In these four years I found myself trying to find validation of my beauty in others. Through this journey I have discovered how I internalized ideas of beauty and projected these emotions and expectations onto my sexual and romantic partners.

In high school, I felt a lot of pressure to conform to an idea of beauty that I did not fit --  that I should be desirable under white beauty standards. I was not being asked out by the boys or girls at my school, whether it be a hookup or an actual date, which made me question myself. Was I not pretty enough? Was I too intimidating? Was I too brown? Was I too fat? These were questions I asked myself on a daily basis throughout high school. When I was in environments outside of my high school, in my own communities, I never asked myself those questions because everyone surrounding me looked like me. We were proud of being loud, brown, women. These people whether they be my friends, or people I was dating, always validated my identity and beauty because they understood. I lived in two opposing worlds on a daily basis, which in the first two years of high school made me constantly confused. Eventually I was tired of being ashamed of my identity in school. I decided to be more vocal and proud. This not only helped me in my voice being heard, but with understanding my identity. It also gave me the power to understand how to take agency with my own sexuality.

In my two last years of high school I found myself empowered and willing to learn more about myself and my sexuality. I explored my body, came out as bisexual, and had discussions about masturbation, self exploration, and self love. I started dating someone in my senior year, who I am still happily dating today. We have learned a lot about each other through our year and a half together and have a healthy relationship all around. What I realize now is that without my journey of sexual self discovery and the pride I have in my body, I would not have been able to have such a healthy relationship with my boyfriend and myself today. Validation from others or a sexual partner is not what allowed me to discover self love or learn about what I like. Although I do feel empowered by others through common identities, they are not the reason for my own self love. I learned to find acceptance from within, I learned about my body, and I learned about what I like by myself. This self discovery is never ending as I continue to learn about myself everyday and accept any insecurities I have with time.

Shafia Zaloom