Updated: Aug 30, 2021
I thought it fitting that the debut article for our Relationships category should be a bit of a dialogue about the relationship I have with myself.
Let me introduce you to me… Natalie, Natz, Boo, Babes, Hun, Lil Sis, The Short One, The Dark One, The Fat One… ok I’ll stop there but you get the point. I’ve had many labels but if I’m honest it’s the ones that I chose to hold on to that caused me the most issues. Growing up I was the darkest person in my household, the fattest , the shortest and I wore glasses. Lord have mercy, those days were the worst. Can I recall my mum or sister ever having anything derogatory to say about my looks….err no actually, even when my sister and I got into arguments she never ever called me out on my looks and my mum the same. In fact when you speak to them and ask for a description you’d think I was Beyoncé or something. Oh Nats you are beautiful, you’re so smart, you’re amazing. These are the phrases I would hear from them when I expressed my insecurities but as you have probably guessed my response was always, you’re my mum/sister you would say that. Effectively although these words were said to me I was never taught how to feel them. I wasn’t taught how to love myself. You see it’s easy to tell someone that they’re beautiful, sexy, hot ting whatever but if they can’t feel it, then they will not receive it. Additionally, the outside world would have a big influence on how I felt about myself, growing up in the UK in the 80’s and 90’s it was difficult to see anyone outside my family that looked like me, even the kids on the hair products were more mahogany than cocoa and their hair just created more reasons to be envious.
In primary school I was fine, you know I never really realised I was outside the realm of beauty until I hit high school. Here I became Fat Nat, it didn’t help that we were poor and so the uniform was probably two sizes too big so that it would “last”, then there was the fact that I was desperate to make friends so would laugh it off rather than tell them my feelings were hurt. My family used to talk about the fact that most of my friends were white but in the beginning that wasn’t actually true it was just that my black friends lived in the opposite direction, so they just didn’t see them. I did however gravitate towards more white friends because the black ones were the ones that gave me that nickname, they were the first to talk about how dark I was and for some reason it was always the darkest boy(s) that wanted to point it out. When I look back now I can see it stemmed from their own insecurities but at the time, I just wanted to be with people that weren’t like the family I grew up with. Cousins that always wanted to sing “hey fatty boom boom”, talk about your peppercorns or make comments whilst you were eating. However, to be rolling with Caucasian people who could pick up make-up from anywhere, go swimming without worrying about their hair and are being asked out left right and centre by the boys that looked like them and the ones that looked like me, I found myself with a whole next set of insecurities.
I went through a whole period of time pretending that I looked completely different to what I actually did, I would try to avoid my reflection at all times, it got so bad that once I saw myself in a shop window and didn’t even realise it was me. I can laugh about it now but at the time I was devastated by what I saw. I never spoke to anyone about it though, instead I found a friend, my best friend Joy. An amazing black female who was like me, we both spoke like white people (translated that means we spoke well), we liked pop music (in particular The Backstreet Boys) and most importantly she was happy to join me in my fantasy world. We were so close that even when I changed schools I would still travel to our old school to meet her on a Friday. Inevitably we drifted apart but those 2-3 years were the best of my life.
At my new school I tried to seek black friends but honestly I couldn’t cope with the attitudes and the man hungry behaviour and again the name calling came, I steady weren’t trying to be the fat friend so I found myself in the same cycle again, being with girls who – although had lots in common with me – could not understand the struggle. They didn’t understand the jokes, they didn’t eat what I ate, they could still buy make-up from anywhere and didn’t worry about standing out in the rain. Girl let me tell you, when you have slicked down your relaxed hair to within an inch of its life and the heaven’s open, the sting from products is no joke. Alas, I digress, needless to say I thought I was happy if not quite fulfilled.
Years went by, I met people from all walks of life, I was met with many micro aggressions which I didn’t even recognise because I had gotten so used to carrying labels. So when someone would say to me “oh you’re actually really nice, when I first saw you I thought you were gonna murder me” I didn’t understand that it translated to; ‘you’re actually really nice for a black girl’. Or when they’d ask me to be the person to meet and greet someone when I had my weave or braids but change their minds when I turned up with my natural hair. Then there’s time I went to an interview and the person didn’t believe it could actually be me based on the experience on my CV or even my name. So much of this went over my head but my sub-conscious was taking it all in subsequently attacking me internally.
I guess by now you must be thinking, come on at some point something must have happened to change you and this did indeed happen but it wasn’t an overnight thing. It was a series of events spread over years that caused transformation within me.
The first thing that happened was getting a job for a betting company and meeting a single black man who was from South London and actually had a preference for black women. He was good looking, intelligent, friendly, funny (being funny is a real sweet spot for me) and he actually made me feel beautiful. Here’s the real crazy thing, we never actually did anything. Never kissed, hugged or even held hands. We chatted, messaged and occasionally saw each other once we started working but if I’m honest it was just his stance on things that really lifted me. He told me how black women like me were the best, how women that looked like me reminded him of the first black woman, the mother of humanity….errr whhaaattt!!!! Now you’re probably wondering why this man is not my husband, well, ladies I did say he was good-looking, intelligent and funny. He also had 3 sons from 3 different women and was (at that time) looking as much gal as he could get. As he had said “black man out here have lost their mind but that’s just left more fruits for my basket you get me”. All that aside this was about how he opened my eyes to the fact that I was still highly regarded. It may still have been someone else’s opinion but it was a thorn removed from my damaged self-esteem. At this time, I was a driver who used to listen to DJ Milktray’s breakfast show in the morning, his Milktray’s Motivation section also acted as a soothing balm to my grazed soul. I began to walk with my head up, with a smile on my face. It’s amazing how much more you can see, hear, feel when you walk like this.
As I became happier in myself, I became more of a joy to be around and attracted more of what I wanted to have in my life. I still preferred to wear a weave over my natural hair, wore my contacts all the time but was exercising regularly. I built meaningful relationships throughout this time and this lead me to meeting my partner. All was good with life and seemed to only be getting better with each passing day.
Then I got pregnant, had my first child – another life changing moment - ups and downs happened and wins and losses were accumulated. I had a second child and began to drift through life rather than steering my direction. I became a mum and wife only and who I was to myself got lost. It took a while for me to recognise it, but when the moment came, I decided to go to uni and get my degree. At this point I really came into my own. I realised that it was ok for me to stand my ground and say “yes I am good at this”, I understood that being my own champion wasn’t about being arrogant or cocky it was about self-assurance. Growing this side of me boosted my confidence and subsequently lead me to recognising the other parts of me that were worthy too. I began to look at myself and actually see myself. See that my body may not be perfect but all was not lost, I loved my dark skin, I choose glasses that were fashionable rather than running from the fact that I needed them. Did I know I was completing all of this “shadow work”? No I didn’t. My epiphany came from what was actually a pretty ordinary task but gave me an extraordinary life lesson. I was walking to uni and just kept seeing all these beautiful black women. In my head I thought to myself, “where have all of these gorgeous black women come from, where have they been all my life?” and BAM! It hit me, I was seeing the beauty in them because I could see the beauty in myself. I was no longer focussing on my imperfections and thus my mind did not seek the imperfections in others. I encouraged others to see their positives and accept their negatives as I had come to terms with doing so myself. Often times, we think that our negative traits need to be cast away and abolished or even pretend that they don’t exist but this is not real, those parts are still there and if you don’t address them they will rear their ugly heads when you least expect (or want) them to. Embrace your dark side and shine light onto it. You don’t have to like them, but when you know and understand how they make you who you are, you can transform them into positives too.
It's cliché but the way you see yourself is actually the most important thing. There is not another person in this world like you. Sounds lonely I know but honestly it’s not like that. It just simply means that when you know yourself, truly and intrinsically, you can navigate life so much better. Is life perfect now? No, of course not, it’s life innit. I can say this though, as I continue to get to know me, I love me for me a bit more every day.