A sex therapist once told me that my ethnicity plays a role in my love life. At the time, I didn’t believe her, but now I see there’s truth to this statement.
There’s a connection between self-acceptance and the ability to receive love from others. We can’t give what we don’t have. Therefore, we can’t give or receive love if we haven’t learned to love ourselves.
I struggled with self-acceptance for many years. I hadn’t learned to embrace my ethnicity, and as a result, I hadn’t fully accepted myself. How could I truly love other people if I didn’t even love myself?
Brené Brown is an American scholar, author, public speaker, and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, she says that we can only love other people to the extent that we’ve learned to love ourselves.
“Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them—we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.”
– Brené Brown
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
– Brené Brown
This is the root of self-acceptance.
In order to authentically love other people, I needed to learn how to love myself. I needed to learn the art of self-acceptance in order for others to accept me.
However, self-acceptance was impossible when deep down, I hated myself. A lot of this self-hatred was rooted in my unwillingness to embrace my ethnicity, my heritage, and my roots. Dealing with those issues was the key to my self-acceptance.
Before I dive into my ethnic background, I’d like to say:
With that being said, let’s dive in.
As a first-generation American, I’m a bit removed from my ethnic roots. Both of my parents are from Spanish-speaking countries.
My mom is from Mexico and my dad is from Nicaragua. They immigrated to the United States when they were young, moving to some rough parts of Los Angeles, California. I’m told that everything shown in movies about Compton is true.
My parents grew up dirt poor in their respective countries, lived smack in the middle of the ghetto after immigrating to the US, and struggled to learn English in school.
My mother even spent some time in the foster care system.
“I could tell you stories that would make your skin crawl,” my mother says.
After enduring this trauma. my parents (especially my mother) shielded me from much of my heritage. They wanted to spare me from having the same experiences that they’d had growing up.
Neither one of my parents taught me Spanish, and apart from the occasional carne asada cookout with my grandparents on my dad’s side of the family, I didn’t get much exposure to the Hispanic culture growing up. It probably didn’t help that my parents married young and divorced shortly thereafter when my mom was still pregnant with me.
When my mom remarried, she settled down with an upstanding [white] gentleman, moved to a lovely [white] neighboorhood, and attended a [white] non-denominational Christian church.
I spent every other weekend with my dad, sometimes getting a taste of my ethnic roots by being in a room full of adults speaking a language I couldn’t understand, but apart from that, I spent the majority of my time in school sitting next to students that didn’t look anything like me. Dark skin and curly black hair with thick legs and wide hips in a sea of blond-haired, blue-eyed, freckle-faced emaciated twigs.
It also didn’t help that I was surrounded by images of super skinny supermodels on TV and at the checkout stand at the grocery store. I grew up in the 90’s in the age of dial-up. This was before the social media pandemic, but I’m sure if Facebook had been around back then, it would have exacerbated my issues.
I didn’t have any examples of what it meant to be a “woman of color,” as the sex therapist later called it. I’d always thought that being a “woman of color” meant being black, but as an artist, I should have known that brown is a color too.
Living in a white neighborhood, going to a white school, and attending a white church, I didn’t feel like I fit in. It didn’t seem right that I wasn’t white.
I learned at an early age that whitewashing isn’t just for wood. It applies to people too.
I became what my Hot Cheeto-eating cousins called a “coconut”—brown on the outside and white on the inside. This means looking just “Mexican enough” to have other Mexicans come up to me and start speaking to me in Spanish, but not acting “Mexican enough” to sing along to the mariachi music.
But the problem was that I didn’t want to look Mexican at all. I wanted to be white as much as Michael Jackson did.
At the tender age of five, I attempted to whitewash myself by covering my entire body with baby powder. This was much to the dismay of my stepdad, who ended up cleaning up the mess I made in the bathroom, and also to my mother, who didn’t know how to address my growing concerns and simply asked me to stop playing with the toiletries.
The talc was just the beginning of an era of hair straightening, selective eating habits, and an unhealthy obsession with celebrity culture that I’m still trying to break by not staring at the tabloids every time I go to the grocery store. This was all in an attempt to get my outsides to match what seemed so glamorous and beautiful to me.
Meanwhile, my insides were an ugly disaster. Instead of magically transforming into the starlets I so deeply admired, I became the poster child for self-hatred: five feet and seven inches of deeply rooted denial masked with a flawless coat of Covergirl foundation.
It wasn’t until my husband and I got married in our early twenties that I realized just how far down the rabbit hole of self-hatred I’d fallen. I struggled with anxiety, depression, and perfectionism—all stemming from a deeply rooted fear of not being “pretty” or “good enough.”
I had every intention of maintaining my carefully fabricated persona. The facade was safe. As long as I looked a certain way and acted a certain way, no one could ever reject me, because they never got to experience the real me.
However, insecurities have a way of creeping out from beneath the bedsheets. In my case, my issues came out during our honeymoon, hiding under the covers when the reality hit me that somebody might actually love me for me, and not who I pretended to be.
I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that I might actually be “enough.” I felt unworthy of this kind of acceptance, and as a result, I did everything in my power to try and sabotage my own happiness before it even started.
Every day, I looked at my husband and wondered, “How am I supposed to love you when I don’t even love myself?”
But rather than learning how to love myself, I disengaged, both emotionally and physically. That seemed easier than taking the time and effort to work through my issues. After all, I’d spent a lifetime developing negative thought patterns.
Breaking these patterns would have meant breaking up with the familiar. “The Familiar” might as well be “The Comfort Zone”—kind of like The Twilight Zone, only with less music and more color, although I struggled with the color.
It came down to fear. I was afraid of letting go of my preconceived notions of beauty because I didn’t know what self-acceptance looked like. I’ve since learned that we care more about losing what we have more than we do gaining what we don’t.
I’d like to say that I got over myself quickly and everything worked out, but I’d be lying. In truth, my self-deprecating behavior went on for several years. We eventually came to a crossroads: either get help so we can stay together, or you’ll be on your own and you’ll still need to get help.
We thought the root of my issues was psychological. That explains how I ended up sitting across from a big black woman who called herself a therapist, but that doesn’t explain how I ended up loving myself.
All of the credentials in the world couldn’t qualify a therapist to fix me. No one else could fix me. Only I could fix myself.
So how did I do that?
Maybe that sounds like a bunch of New-Age-Hippy-Dippy-Mumbo-Jumbo Crap, but it worked for me.
Maybe because I believed it would. I’m not sure. But what I’ve found is that thoughts have power. Thoughts turn into words, words turn into actions, and actions turn into habits, and habits create our lifestyle.
James Allen was a British author who wrote about the power of thought. In his literary essay and book, As a Man Thinketh, published in 1903, he explains we can control our lives through our thoughts.
“Each man holds the key to every condition, good or bad, that enters into his life, and that, by working patiently and intelligently upon his thoughts, he may remake his life, and transform his circumstances.”
– James Allen
If I wanted to change my life, I needed to change my thinking.
I took a cue from a dear friend of mine who I deeply admire. She shares my Hispanic heritage and may be considered conventionally beautiful according to society’s standards.
Every day, she spends time doing positive affirmations. She tells herself how she loves and is so grateful for each body part. Yes, even her thick legs and curly hair. If she could love herself, why couldn’t I?
It came down to a willingness to change. I started telling myself the opposite of whatever I was thinking or feeling to change my thought patterns and create a new normal.
Maybe this sounds cheesy, but if you start telling yourself something enough times, it becomes the truth. You create your own reality. Your brain doesn’t know if you’re lying. You might as well tell it something positive, to make that your reality. Seriously, try it.
Do note that saying something once or twice probably won’t make that much of a difference. You have to say it over and over again, multiple times a day, maybe multiple times an hour, until it becomes a belief. What you think becomes the truth.
And the truth is that I am beautiful—dark skin, curly black hair, thick legs, wide hips, and all.
“You are today where your thoughts have brought you. You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.”
– James Allen
You can’t control certain circumstances. For example, you can’t control your ethnicity, who your parents are, or how you were raised. However, you can control your own mindset and attitude. Using positive affirmations and self-talk can help you adjust your mindset and therefore improve your life.