Happy. Free. Loved. I own my truths. I live the only life I know — mine.
TEN YEARS AGO
This was far from the case ...
I have always been a self-confident and independent person. My mom's favorite story of my childhood was how I was obsessed with a particular outfit. This was back in the Philippines. At four years old, I had to wear this jumpsuit every day. If my mom washed it the night before, I would find a stick, take it off the clothesline and put it on soaking wet. I'd stand in the sun freezing until it was finally dry enough for me to go about my day. In this little Filipino town, it was safe for me to walk around by myself. And so I did. Every morning, before anyone woke up I would put on my little shoes and just go. My parents told me how my running down the stairs and door slamming became their alarm clock. So independence has always been the very core of who I am.
But there was a point in my life, a decade, that I let my days pass me as a shell of the person I was. I fell in love with a man that I wanted to build my forevers with. In the beginning, it was like a fairy tale. We got married. We brought 5 beautiful daughters into the world, each one teaching me a different kind of love. All of them teaching me a love so deep it becomes excruciating at times. I thought I was happy. In the end, it was a fairytale. It was a fairytale in the sense that this marriage I was in, the happiness I thought I was feeling, the love I thought I had - none of that was real.
The harm and psychological effects of being married to my ex was insidious. He slowly chipped away at the person I was and molded me into the person he needed me to be. Little by little I became less outspoken. I stopped going out. I stopped taking care of myself. I stopped looking into the mirror. I lost all my friends. I hated myself. Little by little, I stopped smiling.
I remember exactly when I knew things had to change. My ex just finished berating me. Although we never fought in front of the children, to this day they do not know exactly how bad he treated me. My daughter came in the room later that day and sat next to me. She looked at me with her big innocent eyes and asked, "Mom did Dad make you sad again?"
It was in that moment I knew I had to leave.
I refused to let my daughters witness an unhappy marriage. I could not let my daughters think it was okay to be with a person that sucked the life out of you. I refused to let my daughters look up to a woman who hated herself so much, she couldn't stand up for herself. Was I going to continue to let my daughters watch me neglect myself and frown every time I caught a quick reflection of myself? How could I be the best mom to these beautiful beings, if I wasn't even close to being the best me?
So as naive as this may be, I look at what I do as my way to creating a better world for my daughters. As tiny as my difference might be in the grand scheme of things - I know by empowering women, I am creating a better world period. I know too well the pain of self-hatred. How the weight of society's expectations just bears down on your chest for so long, your heart forgets to love the body it calls home. We are constantly bombarded by images forced down our throat of what society defines as beautiful. We need to stop. For ten years, ten fucking years I let a man define who I was, what I did, and worse yet - what I was worth. It took me a long time to get to where I am now. And although I have so much further to go, I am proud of how far I've come and the scars that came with it. I know now the importance of not only embracing yourself but celebrating who you are. No more of the excuses. No more of the "I need to lose ten pounds, I am not sexy enough, I am too awkward." Let me prove you wrong. Can you imagine how we would feel hearing our daughters, nieces, or friends speak to themselves the same way we do in our heads? And we don't all have to had gone through an emotional traumatizing event to celebrate who we are. A client's husband (who the client swears to me has no sweet bone in his body) wrote me once thanking me for her photos because "...she finally sees herself the way I see her." That just reiterates my belief that we are too busy looking at what society throws at us, and using that as our measure of beauty, to really look at ourselves and see what real beauty is. The beauty everyone you love sees in you but we blind ourselves to. And that is the part I love the most about what I do. I will open your eyes to that beauty. And we will celebrate.