Abraham Lincoln once said, ” All that I am or hope to be I owe to my mother.” This is especially true in my case as I was raised by an “old school” single mother who worked tirelessly to ensure that my brother and I had a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and every opportunity for academic advancement. Everything I ever needed to know about believing and loving myself I learned from her. I am and forever will be grateful for her sacrifices and encouragement which is why I celebrate the woman who have raised, inspired and nurtured me by sharing some of the things she taught me about self love. I hope that this inspires anyone reading to practice self love, which contrary to popular belief, is not based on vanity or pride.
Note: Some of these lessons were not directly imparted to me by my mother but rather were learnt based on what I observed of her experience.
1. How your mother talks about herself effects you.
When someone brings up the idea of dating again my mother usually gestures at her body and says, “Who is going to take notice in a thing like this?” It was a line that I heard so often as a child to the point that I later parroted it once I became of “date-able” age. After all my mother is funny, smart, kind, creative and genuine (among other things) so if a man wouldn’t notice her because of her plus size figure, what made me–a bookish, sheltered plus size fangirl– a catch?
My mother isn’t the only one who is guilty of this. Most mothers are the best of cheerleaders and will go to great lengths to encourage their daughters, yet these self criticisms actually creates insecurities in their daughters without a basis for them. I still have issues with my arms for this very reason! As I began to love myself, I learned that some of my insecurities are actually not mine at all, but my mother’s and its best to identify them in order to break this chain.
2. Don’t compare yourself to others and be yourself!
I am Latina and for the better part of my childhood and early adolescence I attended schools with a diverse population of Latinos. (Yes we are not all the same). What I didn’t understand was how I could be a Latina if I wasn’t fair skinned or had straight hair like most of my classmates or the Latina women I saw on television. I wanted to look like them and I often complained that it wasn’t fair that I didn’t have somewhat straight-wavy hair like my mother. My mother was adamant that I maintain my natural texture so I never got my hair permed and I am forever thankful for that. I have since embraced my curls to the point that they are kind of my trademark.
In addition to that, as a woman of color I sometimes felt like I had to apologize for doing and liking the things I did. Things like reading comics and manga, listening to rock instead Latin music, visiting museums and studying western art/history in college, tended to be considered an attempt to reject my Latina identity because I am “acting white.” My mother was the one who pointed out that there is no such thing as a “white” profession or hobby, though certain areas are dominated by that particular racial group. Society’s racialized perceptions of education, aspirations, professions and achievements shouldn’t influence what one does or enjoys. Its far better to defy the stereotypes than let stereotypes them define you which means never giving in to peer pressure to prove my heritage or that I know my culture. It’s okay to look and be different, because it’s who I am.
3. There is a difference between skinny and healthy.
Since I was a child doctors, teachers, friends, family and even complete strangers have taken the time to shame me for the fact that I am bigger than the acceptable size 10. Determined to stop these comments, I developed an eating disorder in middle school that lasted well into high school. I would skip almost every meal I had outside of my home, where my mother would make sure that my brother and I ate. I figured that this was the only way I would lose the weight that got most people talking about me on a daily basis. It didn’t.
I was still bullied and got nothing more than massive headaches with bouts of dizziness for all my trouble. When I finally voiced my concern to my mother she reprimanded me for being so focused on losing weight for my all the wrong reasons; my goal shouldn’t be a set dress size but a set lifestyle of health. After all, you can be unhealthy whether you’re skinny or plus size. My mother took great care in making me understood that fitness, sleep and a balance diet is essential, not food deprivation. While I don’t go to the gym everyday (mostly due to gymtimidation) I do make sure to get in some kind of physical activity, be it walking, squats or playing Dance Dance Revolution with arm and leg weights. Health-wise I am not where I want to be yet, but I will.
4. Your worth is not dependent on anyone but you.
Growing up the only time I would be complimented is whenever I wore my hair down. Thus a twisted perspective on my worth was manifested in me. I began to think that the only thing worth mentioning was my hair. Never-mind my intelligence, talents and aspirations, but my hair was the only thing of value on my person. My mother would never focus on my hair as much as people tend to believe, she was more concerned on what my was going on in my head. This meant ensuring that I limited negative self talk (which was usually based on what people said about me) and worked towards becoming the best version of myself. Receiving affirmations from others on such things like your appearance, intelligence and accomplishments are nice, not necessary. My worth is based on what I think it is.
5. SAY NO! (And mean it.)
This one is pretty self explanatory and really it comes from one of my mother’s favorite (English) sayings, “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” I am guilty of saying “yes” to things because I am scared of disappointing people and hurting someone’s feelings. My mother is very kind too and there are people that have taken advantage of that fact to the point that they have made my mother feel bad for declining to do certain things. It takes a lot to realize that you are not a terrible mother, daughter, sister or friend for not jumping to action at the exact moment someone calls or rejecting something just because you don’t agree with it. Of course you should treat others with the same amount of respect that you would want them to give to you, but its not about being rude to anyone but being decisive of what you want to do as well as how and when.
6. Choose what makes you happy.
When I was younger my mother would ask my brother and I what we wanted to be when we grew up. This same question would be asked at least 4 times in a year and I realize now that it was to make sure that we were thinking of the future and developing aspirations. If we ever gave her a vague answer she made sure to get us to elaborate if only to prove that we weren’t just telling her what we believed she wanted to hear. Whatever our answer she would always end the
interrogation conversation with, “As long as it makes you happy.” (Even if our answers was something crazy like, “I want to be a Sailor Scout!” , which in my case happened more often than I care to admit.) If you choose your happiness (and immerse yourself in it) when it comes to things like your education and career, you’ll never regret your decisions and you will be that much closer to living the life most people wish they could.
7. Make time for yourself.
As a single mother of two kids who attended two different schools in different NYC boroughs, my mother would constantly over extend herself; between work and the family it was always hectic in our household. Yet even when things were at there absolute worst or chaotic, my mother made sure to take some time off to recharge. Sometimes that meant going away for a weekend (with my brother and I in tow), having a day out to visit museums, turning off the tv and having a game day or just sleeping in. Though I struggle to continue this practice as an adult, I have found it to be increasingly necessary to take part in such activities if only to not lose sight of what is important–to live and enjoy life! So even if there are great lists of things to get done, taking them on one at at time (in between your “me time”) is the best course of action.
8. True Beauty is in everything you are and do.
Whenever the topic of beauty is brought up we automatically think of physical appearance (and, if we were to admit it, what we really picture is a western concept of beauty) but true beauty is so much more than what is seen. Beauty shines in your passions, influence, acts of kindness, struggles you pushed against, victories, work you have done, and friendships.
My mother is proof of that and I hope that I am too.
What are some lessons that your mother imparted to you? How do you practice self love?