The following post are reflections from rising-sophomore Nitya Kumaran who represented UMBC at this year’s National Conference for College Women Leaders (NCCWSL). When Nitya found herself in my office after attending the conference in May she was full of energy, passion, complex thoughts, and challenges for herself. I asked her to write some of what she was thinking and feeling down so others who didn’t attend the conference could also learn from her leadership journey. Nitya took up this challenge by sharing her thoughts in a conscious-raising way that presents itself as raw and authentic reflection of her journey and growth as a feminist leader.
I Loved You Once
At the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders’ Women of Distinction awards, the last award winner was National Slam Poetry Champion — and a woman comfortable with her natural skin and hair — Ms. Elizabeth Acevedo! This Dominican woman had unabashed curls springing from her head like fresh beans from the soil, like flowers in the sun. She had coffee skin and a smile that charmed me to the floor. There were cheers all around and they took on a new volume at the mention of that last phrase. A few black women around me cheered particularly loud and I cheered with them.
Try Fair and Lovely for radiant skin!
The skin-whitening creams, my own dark skin, hate from another place and time struck my mind. I couldn’t fathom the weight of that last accomplishment.
Easily and graciously, Ms. Acevedo’s whole face smiled and thanked us.
“I was a nina de la casa. A girl of the house. That’s all I was expected to be. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that if you want to do that, but I think everyone should have the choice.”
Her own difficult journey to become “her own woman” was shared with us with both hands. We weren’t supposed to become her, we were supposed to become our own women, find our own destiny.
The slam poetry began then and phrases still remain in my mind a month later and will remain years later:
“We may not see the fruit but we can be the roots.”
“The moments… Never regret how you spent them or how you meant them.”
As she shared her poetry, I thought of the oppression my mother had faced as a woman.
I thought of the memory of shame I had repressed for months.
I thought of how I had given myself the backseat in the car of my own life at times.
How the girls I grew up with had bowed to their own self-loathing, their own fears.
I willed it all to leave me now and forever.
Ms. Acevedo was the kind of woman who wouldn’t be quiet if she knew the answer.
She was the kind of woman who saw the miracle and victory of her existence.
She was the kind of woman who wouldn’t take up less air or space than what she fully deserved.
And she knew what she deserved.
The urgency in her voice made me shake inside and my tight self-control left me as tears found their way onto my cheeks. She was a speaker for the unspoken, for the silent and injured, for the ones who were shunned from the podium she gracefully occupied. I had witnessed a living free spirit, I had witnessed a woman who loved herself.
“They tell us fat women can’t be loved, that we’re not attractive.”
I cannot believe she said that. The silent rule.
I thought of how I had picked the loosest shirt I could find before the conference, scared of exposing the flaws of my flawed body. My flawed mind. My flawed speech. I needed to cover my whole self because god forbid if anyone ever found out that I was never a perfect child.
I looked at the attractive lady in front of me and realized that I wanted to hug her. She was an attractive woman — period.
You are beautiful. You are god’s child. You’re my child. You’re so beautiful. Don’t say that. Don’t do it. Please, my dear.
I have been a real hypocrite. I know that “fat” only refers to someone’s weight, and has nothing to do with beauty. Why is “fat” ugly, huh? If I gained weight, would I stop being beautiful? My mother and some of the most beautiful women I know are not skinny, and don’t look exactly or are exactly what the world says we must be to be worthy of love. And yet, if I put on weight, I am embarrassed of my body… how will anyone love me now? It’s a similar narrative that runs through my mind when people put me down because of my dark skin in the past. I thought I wasn’t enough to receive anyone’s love.
I realized then that every flaw of mine that I hate might be someone else’s flaw that they hate. My flaw is the same flaw that my sister might be hating in herself or my mother or my father or my future children or my friends. How can I look someone in the eye and tell them I love and accept them anyway, when they might have the same flaw of mine that I absolutely cannot stand?
I realized then that my life is going by and I’m only here to be happy and to make other people happy. Each person is someone’s child, is someone’s baby, is a beautiful creature who is learning and growing. And all children are beautiful, vulnerable, magical and valuable in their own unique existence.
Every time I hate on my flaw, I am also hating on someone else with that same flaw. When I tell myself that I am unworthy of love, I am telling someone else that, as well. And I would never want to do that. I love people. I want them to be happy. I mean we each started out as a single cell — we are walking miracles and we have so much to give to each other and the world.
So I’m trying to accept where I am right now. I’m trying to love myself so that I can share better love with other people — the kind of unconditional love we deserve. I’m trying to be brave. I’m trying to speak with confidence in silent classrooms. I’m trying to raise my hand. I’m trying to listen to my inner voice even when no one else believes in me. Because I have something to give to the world and my own hatred is not going to stand in the way of that. I am a leader.
I loved myself once. I loved everyone. I will love everyone again. I’ll love myself again.