I remember growing up in a majority white neighborhood feeling extremely excluded and outcasted. I didn’t feel any different from the others that I grew up with, but I knew that I was. In 2nd grade, I went to a friend’s birthday party. All the girls that were there did makeup, painted nails, played with hair, and at one point the birthday girl announced she wanted to put temporary dye in her hair and invited the rest of the girls to join her. As we all got up, I remember asking what colors she had, and she said to my face, “You don’t get to do it. You’re the only one with dark hair and dark skin, it won’t look good on you.” And proceeded to walk away with the rest of the girls. I remember being confused and then noticing the others had either blonde hair or brown hair, but not one having black hair. I still smiled and did my best to enjoy the rest of the party, but I know I cried at night because I helped dye everyone’s hair, but no one even touched me

I remember growing up to be the tallest girl in 5th grade. I started off being like everyone else and everyone’s height, but in 5th grade I became taller than my classmates. I was made fun of and often compared to a boy because of how I dressed, and my height. I felt so outcasted thatI felt like a freak. Every girl would have a crush, and the crushes would always ask the girl to hang out during recess. I had a crush, and I remember him coming up to me and telling me that he could never like me because of my skin color and because I was taller than him. I was confused why my height made a difference of how people treated me, but it was then I became aware that I was different.

In the middle school, I grew up shy and sheltered. At that point, I had sprung to be the tallest girl in my grade. With that going through puberty, I remember having the worst stretch marks, and having the worst body hair. Not only did I look like a high schooler, but I looked like a “homeless” high schooler in my head. At the end of middle school, I had gotten my first phone, and at that point interest became a thing accessible on phones. Women with perfectly thin bodies, and silky-smooth skin without a flaw in sight was all I saw. All these women were light-skinned or white with beautifully curled hair, and I was nothing like that. I wasn’t sure how to express myself, I wasn’t sure what or who I was, and I was always told that I had all the time in the world to figure that out.

High school came and I finally started feeling better about myself in some way. But then I remember my parents hinting at the gym and telling me that it would be a good idea if I started hitting it more frequently. But it was always followed by, “you’re so beautiful. You are gorgeous, and we have a gorgeous daughter.” But I had a feeling I was bigger, and that didn’t translate to a better self-esteem. All during high school, I got more confident in my looks and I remember having a lot more guy friends, but I also remember not one of them expressing any interest. In fact, all of them would come to me to get advice on how to get another girl they found beautiful. But I couldn’t blame them. I was extremely tall, I was bigger, I wasn’t as smart as the others, or didn’t do anything spectacular enough to gain any attention from anyone. But I was always positive, because I had friends who I knew loved having me around.

The rest of college was what I called my toxic faze. Too much happened too quickly, and I was only tumbling in the wave rather than riding it. I became skinnier, but that didn’t translate to healthier. I pursued a guy I believed was good for me, which didn’t translate to someone who was for me. I studied a degree that was seen as prestigious and difficult, but that didn’t mean I was happy and satisfied. I know those years I was miserable, because I couldn’t be who I wanted to be. Because, I didn’t know who that was and was never given the chance to figure who that was. And now? I am okay, but I am not content. I am always aware that I need to grow, and I will never settle for anything less.

There is always one thing I wish my parents had taught me growing up. If they taught me how to accept myself, I feel as though all the issues and stress I have wouldn’t be as evident. I was raised to be cautious, and timid. I was raised to be a good girl, with good manners and behavior at all times. But I wasn’t encouraged to be myself or embrace myself. I was told to smile through the rough times, and I did through each one. I had to grow up by myself, because I learned very quickly no one truly cares for you but you. You are your strongest force, and you are the only one who can truly make a difference for yourself.

Your skin color, hair texture, body is no one else’s concern but your own. Your life is your own to live, and it is definitely easier said than done. Accept what you have and accept that you are you just as you are. You are allowed to change, and you’re allowed to have feelings and be whatever it is you want to be. But accept that you are just who you are, and some things just can’t be changed. I can’t change how my body looks, or how I feel towards someone. But I can change how I choose to act every day and how to move forward in my life rather than beat myself up on the past. My biggest regret in my life so far is that I never truly allowed myself to be my own person. I existed to be perfect to everyone, regardless of how I felt about myself.

Growth isn’t all external; it is all internal. Having the right influence and encouragement would have allowed me to explore my world and reach heights that I never thought were possible. And it can come from any form of influence, from a friend to a video to a book. And the thing is, it is never too late to start. I am young, and I know I am so I know I am capable to manifesting myself to be the best that I can be. The difference between someone who knows they want to change and someone who is actively doing the change, is that the person who knows they want to change understands the layers that need to be peeled away. I have a lot of baggage and habits I have slowly broken over the years, and I still have more to go. The one who is actively doing the change has found their flow and method on how to deal with their past and apply that in a positive way.

The most important thing is, go at your own pace. Everything will fall right in place if you allow yourself to continue moving forward in a pace that you are comfortable in. Don’t force something that doesn’t feel natural but allow yourself to explore outside your comfort zone from time to time. Accept you are gifted and as talented as anyone else in this world, but you have your own unique abilities. I share my journey not for sympathy, but for others to understand you are not the only one feeling this way. You are not less beautiful because you have stretch marks on your hip. You are not a giant or a freak if you are taller than average. You are not average if you are not as “smart” as the next plain Jane or Joe. You are you, and you are perfect the way you are. Don’t settle for yourself, just constantly push yourself to be the best version of you every day.

Accept that, because there is truly only one YOU. Acceptance.