I wish people would stop projecting their ideas of what I should look like and be when I didn’t ask them. So many people tell me how “bad” my afro shrinkage is and how I should do more twist outs or get braids again. I love shrinkage, it means my hair is healthy. I used to be obsessed with twisting my hair every night to make it look longer when I took it out in the morning, so I’d look more feminine. But I’ve gotten over that now, and that’s something I’m very proud of because I used to loathe my nappy hair. I was so ashamed of the tight puff it would curl into after a shower that if I didn’t do a twist out I made sure to wear a hat so no one could see my undefined curls. So I find it really unsettling when someone tells me I should go back to feeling that way. It’s like asking me to go continually dip myself in boiling water that singes off my skin.

I’ve been getting so much better at accepting myself for who I am and loving my looks and personality. I’ll never be the most graceful or typically attractive. I’m still beautiful anyway, and so what if I don’t abide by patriarchal white supremacist standards of beauty? I even feel better about my scoliosis! Whenever I feel insecure about my body compared to the able bodied images I see every day I just say, “My body is too punk rock for the rest of the world!”

So many people think they know me and my reasoning for doing certain things. I’ve been wearing mostly bodycon dresses for most of the spring and summer simply because they’re more comfortable than shorts. But a few weeks ago, I went to Brooklyn to visit a “friend” and when I got to his place and told him how awkward it was to be cat called and followed down the street on my way there, he argued that the main reason men are doing that to me is because I have a big butt and wearing a tight dress just accentuates it. “You know what you’re doing,” is what he said. Then he proceeded to get mad at me because he admitted that my physique also aroused him and he thought I was silly to be mad at comments about my body while I’m dressed like that. His harsh words made me uneasy, and when I gave him a piece of my mind about his bullshit opinion of me I was suddenly “taking it too personally” and just acting in a disrespectful manner because I’m young, when really he was the one being inappropriate with me. I wasn’t going to put up with that, so I left his place.

It’s really maddening to know that I have no control over my body and how it’s viewed, that I can’t wear something without someone assuming I’m after attention. It’s just like, Why are you concerned about me? It’s my body and I’ll do what I want with it.

When I was growing up and even now, whenever I express discomfort with something done to me, or defend myself from mean jibes I’m turned into the bitch who should be fine with being stepped all over and ridiculed. I’m expected to be quieter than other people because I’m this tiny black girl who’s just supposed to make sure everyone else around me is happy and not pay any mind to my own comfort. Sometimes there’s nothing more painful than having to apologize for being genuinely upset about being disrespected or abused. It used to makes me so emotional that I’d cry about it at times. But in recent years, it got worse because, as I grew older, I was taught to hold it in. That’s why now it’s so important for me to trust myself, and love myself, because so many people try to trick me out of my emotions or gaslight me, and I still don’t always let my feelings manifest into actual concerns. I get manipulated into thinking I’m overreacting, or that my disgust with the way someone treats me actually makes me the nuisance, and I’m supposed to comfort my abuser.

Accepting myself has helped me understand that my emotions are as real as can be, and that I have a right to own them and share them when I feel unsafe. I feel so much more like myself again: The girl who’s not afraid to fight back and tell someone off when they’re being a jerk. I’m overjoyed to be finally getting back to that place. A year ago it seemed impossible—I thought I’d never get back to being confident assertive girl I once knew. But here I am now, aware that I am worthy and pretty in my own way. I’m perfectly me. Nappy hair and all. ♦