An Ode to Self-Love
I'm gonna take off all my clothes, look at myself in the mirror. We're gonna have a conversation, we're gonna heal the disconnection. I don't remember when it started, but this is where it's gonna end. My body is beautiful and sacred and I'm gonna celebrate it.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Ashleigh how is this an ode to self-love but it isn’t a song?”
Or maybe you weren't thinking that, but I was. Well, I really liked and wanted to use that title so I started the post with lyrics to one of my favorite songs about Self-Love, Private Party x India.Arie.
I dance to this song every year at midnight on my birthday.. it’s the perfect way to start off the celebration of another year of life.
But anywho, back to the topic at hand..
Trust me when I say I think about my topics about five or six times, maybe even more before I decide to post them and the pictures that go along with this post are no different. For the longest time I’ve wanted to do a boudoir photo shoot and last month it finally happened! I had been going back and forth about doing it for about two years now. Trying to find the right photographer, the right place, the right time.. if I had waited until everything was perfect, it would have never happened. I wanted to celebrate both my weight-loss and growing confidence, something I’d never had until honestly a year or so ago. [Shoutout to my amazing photographer Imani Dennison, check out her Instagram and website for more of her work.]It took a while to get to the point where I could say I truly loved myself, and even longer to learn to love my body. I spent so much time hating myself that I will tell anyone who will listen just how much I’m loving me now and how I got to this point! Do I think I’m sunshine and roses all the time? No. Do I still have some bad days and insecurities like everyone else? Of course! But I’m no longer waking up every day hating what I see when I look in the mirror.
Big lips, big forehead, dark skin, short thin hair, mouth rash, weight up and down..
The list things I hated about myself was endless. Growing up being teased, talked about, and having it ingrained in my psyche that my appearance wasn’t deemed beautiful by the outside world and even by those close to me really did affect how I saw myself.. for a very long time. It affected how I carried myself as well. I didn’t much effort or thought into my appearance because well, “why does it matter how I dress, or what my hair looks like, I’m already ugly?” That was really my thought process. Silly, I know.I hated hanging out with my friends, the few I had, outside of our houses or school activities. I would always feel insecure, unwanted, and pitied, not because of anything they did, but because of my own self-loathing. It was especially uncomfortable being around my “pretty friends” when they got hit on or asked out by a group of guys and I’d just stand on the sideline. I let the world’s view of beauty define standards for myself and as a result I had the lowest self-esteem. I couldn't honestly say that I started to love myself until I was about 19 or 20 years old (four or five years ago) and I didn't begin to have an ounce of genuine confidence until just a couple of years ago. Had you told the younger me I'd get to a point where I am now, I'd call you a liar and tell you to get out of my face.
So Ashleigh, how did you eventually get to the point of loving yourself and being confident? How do you practice self-love?
Pep Talks in the Mirror
..may sound silly, may be cliche, but it worked for me. Forcing myself to look in the mirror and say “Ashleigh you are beautiful and I love you.” until I actually believed it helped. Even on the days where I looked and felt a hot mess. Even on the days where I couldn’t force myself out of bed. I used to avoid mirrors, now I’m always in one. Not out of vanity, but admiration for how far I’ve come physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’ll dance, make silly faces at myself, tell me to get my sh*t together or assure me that I’m doing the best I can. Spend that time in the mirror, I promise it will help.
Visible Quotes and Positive Affirmations
I love quotes. If you’ve ever been in any room I’ve ever lived in or even seen my Instagram, you know this to be true. I would write quotes, scriptures, and positive affirmations on my mirrors, post them on my walls and have screenshots in my phone to ensure I had plenty of reminders throughout the day.
This more so helped on my mental health journey but it’s all intertwined anyway. Getting my mental health together aided the process of getting my physical and emotional health together, and vice versa. I recorded myself talking about what was currently going on in my life, how I was feeling, what I was thinking, and so on and so forth. It was my actual therapy before I started therapy. I recently went back and watched those videos (all ranging from 2011-2013) and man, I’ve come such a long way.
Putting in the Effort
When I didn’t love myself, it showed. In the way I dressed, in the way I spoke (or didn’t speak) to people. I felt miserable so I didn’t put much effort into my clothing, my hair, or my body. Started losing weight, eating better, better hygiene, consistently getting my hair done, and slowly changed my wardrobe. I noticed that when I put effort into looking better, I felt better. Last year I learned how to put on makeup, something I never really wore. I did it to enhance my beauty, not to mask any insecurities. I honestly didn’t want to start wearing makeup consistently until I could say I loved me. That way I didn't wear it out of necessity and would still be comfortable leaving the house without it on.
Going Places Alone
I love going places alone. It’s simple. You can miss out on so much not wanting to go places or do things alone. Your favorite artist in town for a concert? Go. A new restaurant just opened up with good reviews? Try it out. An amazing flight deal just dropped? Book it! It’s easier said than done for some folks but I promise you’ll feel better than you do missing out and watching experiences pass you by.
Celebrate the Beauty In Others
This one is important because comparison is the thief of joy. Being envious of the beauty and bodies of others added to a lot of the insecurities I had about myself. Instead of being jealous of the many beautiful women I had/have around me (especially during my time at Howard), I made it a point to celebrate their beauty, inside and out. No seriously, it’s okay to say “you are so beautiful!” to a perfect stranger. Or to compliment a characteristic you love and appreciate about someone. We all have days where we feel less than. I had to learn to admire someone else’s beauty without questioning my own.
“I had to learn the hard way, true love begins with me. This is not ego or vanity, I’m just celebrating me.”