I am completely obsessed with my baby niece. Ever since she was a little goober, fresh out the womb, I’ve fawned over her.
I first met her in 2011, arms open, smile on my face, and my smartphone ready to catch a pic. She’s now four years old and I still can’t spend time with her without immortalizing her cuteness through snapshots.
As Brynn gets older, our conversations get more interesting. She’s becoming more aware of herself, developing her own thoughts and even starting to have an influence on me. Before now, I would have never believed a 4-year-old could teach me something about confidence, but she did.
We were hanging out recently, playing a typical little kid game that had nonsensical rules. I was winning...I think.
Anyway, I tried to segue out of the game by suggesting we take a photo together. It’s been awhile since I’ve taken a photo with my niece. I don’t really like to take photos of myself these days.
This year has been full of super-highs and super-lows and I've dealt with bouts of depression. My inner survival struggle has started to have an effect on my appearance. I've developed dull eyes from sleepless nights and crying fits and adopted fuck-this-shit hairstyles and an un-chic all-black wardrobe.
Then came the stress eating, which led to the weight gain, which led to stressing over getting dressed. I simply was not feeling myself.
After taking our selfie (or usie, rather), Brynn wanted to take a photo of me. I had fun with it, making silly faces and wacky poses, but when I looked back at the photos it wasn’t funny.
As my niece and I reviewed our mini-photoshoot, I couldn't hold myself back from making some less-than positive remarks about my appearance within her earshot. I was thinking aloud when I said, “Oh my gosh. My arms. Ugh! They are so huge.”
I immediately looked at my very impressionable niece, her big brown eyes watching me self-loathe. This tiny person, who I pray will never view herself the way I was viewing myself in that moment, looked at me perplexed.
As soon as the words left my mouth I regretted it. I didn’t know what to say, but it didn’t matter because Brynn immediately followed up with, “No, Kadia. You look strong!” She gleefully pointed to the picture and then to my arms and said “Big arms are strong!” She started flexing.
I became overwhelmed with both guilt and love. Little miss thing then took my phone and proceeded to take more selfies. As she reviewed her blurry self portraits, she exclaimed, “Wow! That’s me...I love it!”
She was pleased with each and every one. She didn’t nitpick, she didn’t need another angle, she was just so happy to have had her smile captured.
I felt inspired by her confidence and wondered what happened to my own. When did I stop appreciating myself? When did photos become an opportunity to find my imperfections?
As I watched my little niece gush over her photos, I remembered the love I used to have for myself. I remembered a time when I was not constantly bombarded with articles about contouring my round face, or “how to dress for my size,” or whether or not I was an apple or a pear shape. I remember a time when I was not categorized.
As a young child, I was self-aware, yet not self-conscious. I was 13 when I was first called “fat." I was 9 years old when I first asked my mom to perm my hair after being made fun of for being “nappy-headed,” and was 24 years old when I returned to my natural roots.
It’s such a precious sight to see my brown-skinned coily-haired niece beam with such pride and confidence. As long as she’s wearing a smile, she’s always camera ready. I pray her confidence withstands the world’s bullshit standards of beauty and femininity.
Of course, every moment with my niece is special, but this one will stay with me forever.
I believe we all start off loving ourselves and the world. We learn to hate, judge and criticize. In a world that constantly tells you that you aren’t enough, confidence has to be re-learned and maintained.
As one of the many loving elders in her life, it is my duty to encourage my niece to embrace all of herself -- even while she combs through Barbie’s straight hair. I have to remind her that her kinky curls are just as fabulous.
And at 26, I’m learning to give myself the same self-esteem boost. I try to take more photos of myself these days. Not for “the Gram,” but really for myself. I make an effort to embrace all of me, despite whatever I am going through.
Confidence is looking at your photo and saying “Wow! That’s me...I love it!”