To Young Girls,
When I was your age, I would go to basketball games and look at my phone while the teams played. But as soon as the dancers or the cheerleaders stepped out, my eyes fixated on the court. I loved the energy, the smiles, the performing and the positivity.
Like you are now, I was a young girl with a big dream, as I remember telling my mom, “That’s what I am going to do when I get older.”
When I was growing up, we didn’t have the budget for private lessons or dance school. But through rec centers, school programs and a lot of hard work and determination, I became a dancer for a pro sports team.
But whatever I gained in living a dream, I lost way more in terms of my sense of self-worth and confidence.
The first game of the season was supposed to be my moment. I had a spot front and center. My whole family flew in from out of town to see me dance. That was the day my coach told me I won’t hit the floor until I stop jiggling. I spent the game in the locker room in tears.
I already lost 30 pounds just even to be considered for the team. It still wasn’t enough. My coach would grab the fat on my hips and joke about it. And so, I would look around at all the other girls who were just built so differently and think to myself, “why can’t I get like that?”
I reached a point where I would choose not to eat even though my head was spinning and I felt dizzy because I was hungry.
The team also asked me to change my entire look. At the beginning of the season, they gave each dancer a celebrity they wanted us to emulate. – mine was Gabrielle Union when she had a bob haircut.
My whole life, I never cut my hair. I’ve always had super long hair. For me, it was a part of my identity. But to be on the team, I had to cut it short and bleach it. After the stylist finished, I had tears in my eyes. Then, the next day, my coach decided she didn’t like it and told me to get extensions.
I remember coming home one day, taking cutlets out of my bra while looking in the mirror at a version of myself I could barely recognize. I just felt so ugly. I knew this was not ok and I didn’t want to feel this way anymore.
Eventually, I quit and let the team know why.
But even after I left, the insecurities the experience instilled in me remained.
Getting a boob job and constantly drinking, partying and hanging out with the wrong people, I lost myself. I was not ready to deal with the emotions caused by my newfound insecurities.
Eventually, I hit rock bottom when I got a DUI and spent four days in jail.
That’s when I realized that it was time to face my issues head-on. I cut down significantly on partying and started self-reflecting, journaling and getting in touch with God and my spirituality.
I started to teach a dance class with women in heels. Whatever size, shape, age, or race, women would come together, look in the mirror and love what they see. The class evolved into a company called Shameless. Through dancing and conversation, the company encourages women to feel pride even where others in this world might throw shame. To be a shameless woman is to love yourself, flaws and all.
The more I helped build up other women’s self-confidence, the more I began to regain my own.
Now, I am healthy and happy, as I don’t compare myself to others or hold myself to someone else’s standards for beauty.
So, as you pursue your dreams, I want you to make sure that in the process of becoming whatever it is that you want to be, you never let anyone change who you are or how you feel.
The world is yours. Be bold. Be beautiful. But most importantly, always be you.