On Insecurities...

While growing up, I had a lot of insecurities just like others. I was skinny and my skin was naturally tan. In the Philippines, you are most likely to get bullied for having dark skin. The society's concept of beauty includes having a fair complexion, and when you don't, you get mocked and called negative names such as "Ita" (short for negrita), "Ulikba" or even "Pangit" or "ugly".

When I was young, I would cry a lot in secret because people in my neighborhood would make me feel bad about my skin color and even my hair. I also had naturally curly hair, so people thought I was the perfect description of a "negrita" or an "aeta." A negrita is a member of an indigenous group (Aeta/Agta) in the Philippines who live in the mountains. They are scattered and isolated.

Aetas are best described as having dark skin, short, and curly to kinky textured hair. As a child, having been compared to them wasn't a good thing. Because I was mocked and teased by my friends and people in my neighborhood to be similar to them, I learned to have a negative view of them. In my mind, they were ugly...just like me. And so I felt bad about myself. I hated how I looked. I dreaded looking in the mirror. I started wishing I had a fairer complexion and straight hair.

And it was so wrong. Teaching a child to view other people negatively is such a wrong way to educate. Fortunately, my dad's mom, my grandmother, who I looked up to, taught me that the physical body is something that one should nurture, love, and take care of no matter what it looks like.

My grandmother, Eleonor, was popular in our town for being that old woman who does not give a fuck. She came from another indigenous group in the Philippines called Batak. Traditional Batak women are usually half-naked. They were used to it. They grew up with it. Batak people have the same physical features as the Aeta. I guess that explains why I look like them because my grandma came from them.

My grandma used to have a store and would go to the public market every Sunday to sell her products (which everybody loved). She was a successful businesswoman. But on regular days, she would just stay at home...completely topless. If someone came to visit, she wouldn't even bother to get dressed. In her mind, why should she adjust to people who chose to come to see her? In her mind, she didn't have to be embarrassed in her own home.

I admired her so much. She taught me how to get rid of my insecurities and be comfortable in my own skin. Despite that, she also taught me how to act like a proper and decent woman. She was the one who taught me how to sit correctly. She didn't want me to cross my legs when sitting down. She would always ask me to sit with my legs close to each other and slightly bent on the left side. She taught me how to eat decently and to stop putting my left leg up on the chair when sitting down while eating.

My grandma was very different from other women. While others would normally use so many beauty products to take care of their skin and how they look, my grandma only had one beauty product she used daily -- coconut oil. She would apply coconut oil to both her skin and hair. And she had always had that beautiful, tan skin and black, shiny hair.

Growing up with her made me realize how important it is to take care of myself and stay true to who I am. It helps me learn how to love myself and not give a damn about what other people think of me.

There are times when I come across people who would try to make me feel bad for my looks, and when I do, I remind myself of the times I thought I was ugly and my grandma was there to prove I wasn't.

It is not okay to make someone feel bad and ugly. We all need to learn how to lift other people up and empower them. We need to learn how to make people happy for being who they are.

Whoever you are, who are reading this right now, I want you to stop criticizing and to start admiring. I want you to have the same confidence I have and get rid of your insecurities. Because when you start feeling good about yourself, only then can you also make others feel good.

I want to gift you the power of owning yourself, that when you look at your reflection in the mirror, you’d say, “Wow. This amazing person in front of me is ME. No one can compare to me. I am free. I love and I am loved. I am happy.”

I want you to keep your eyes and your ears open. See the world the same way you listen. I want you to keep your mind and your heart burning, that when someone tries to lower your value, you are able to lift yourself up, that when people tell you they don’t like you, you won’t bother to care because you know you’re able to love yourself without others having to like you. Attract positive energy until you attract people who have the same energy as you.