Lorna: Being My Own Hype-Woman

Story 2 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Lorna’s story, written in her own words:

“Growing up, I have always been a big girl. The tallest in my class, the thickest dancer in the back, and the biggest center on the court. At a very young age, I thought that because I was Samoan and Tongan, that was immediately why I was so big. I had a love hate relationship with my body because I did love my body, but I believed everything that people told me about my body, too. As much as I try to be my biggest supporter, everyone has their bad days. 

Sometimes I return a joke with a joke, but when I was younger, there were some incidents where my temper stole the best of me. There was a time where this one girl in my class was going to tell another girl that I was rolling my skirt up and didn’t wear a shirt underneath my uniform sweatshirt cause I was sweaty. The first thing I thought of was to throw a slightly filled gatorade bottle at her to stop her, but instead ended up hitting the girl she was going to tell and gave her a huge bump on her head. Another incident, I threw a volleyball at a group of boys because they were teasing me during our basketball game at recess, calling me a “beast” with a negative snare. I smacked one of them right on their face and when he got up, it looked like he was literally seeing stars and he had the volleyball imprint on his face. Another incident and my favorite was when I was just starting to learn how to play basketball and I also had just transferred to a new school. The girls in my grade would make fun of me because of the way I would jump stop, pivot, shoot, and run, because just like everyone else who starts something new, I was just learning— so I probably did look silly at first. Well, because I was so big, my coach wanted me to be the “big man” on the court and focus on playing defense. At this moment, I was getting frustrated with the girls judging me and my coach telling me what to do. The coach’s daughter was driving the ball down the court, and I wanted to do something right, so I attempted to block her shot but ended up tackling her through the gym doors. Needless to say, the girls stopped teasing me during practice, and I practiced sportsmanship with every game from that day forward by helping opponent players up off the floor, after knocking them down and fouling them. 

As a middle schooler, I was size 14 in dress and size 10 in shoes. I was wearing junior clothes and 4-inch heels because I stopped fitting into the girls’ stores, like Limited Too, at the age of 9 when puberty hit me. My mom knew my personality was bright and reckless so she supported my style of wearing “actually cute” clothes that accented my boobs and big butt. But as much as I loved my body, there was always someone in my ear trying to tell me otherwise. A memory I have was when I was in the seventh grade attending a Catholic School. I was transitioning classes through the outside yard and was crossing paths with the older grade. This kid yelled at me in front of mine and his class, “Why are your legs so big?” My answer immediately was “Well, I’m Samoan.” I really didn’t understand why people asked stupid questions that they think would be funny. I was honestly use to these questions because everywhere I went my bigness was always talked about. It was always a thing on how big my hair was, how big my mom’s oldest daughter is, and how big my personality was too.

At first, I thought the “acceptable” body was having “tamed” hair, slim waist, and thin legs. I was born with huge calves, thick thighs, and coarse curly hair.  Growing up through middle school and high school, I was getting my hair permed straight, because of how easier it was to manage, and I was mostly focused on keeping my tummy “flat” because I felt that was the only thing I could really control.  I liked my tummy only when I woke up in the morning, when I didn’t eat too much that day, and after a workout. It was a great thing I played basketball. Being active was always a priority, but I would still be told to suck it in when going out in a dress or for dance performances. Today, having a “snatched” waistline and a big butt is acceptable and highlighted in all social media platforms. Ads show procedures, pills, and even creams that can help with maintaining this appearance. 

When it came down to wearing crop tops, skinny jeans, booty shorts, and bralettes, I was ALWAYS attracted to this clothing. Growing up in the late- 90s and early 2000s, I was influenced by celebrities like Aaliyah, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Rihanna, Nelly Furtado, Fergie, and Destiny’s Child. I would dress my barbies up with scraps I would cut from my clothing, and then make a cheeky matching outfit for me too. My mom has always supported my confidence and extra-ness, but never let me feel like I was dressing outside of my age. She knew I liked to show my tummy, even though she would always call me out to “suck it in.” Moms be like that. She also supports my twerk movement from chaperoning dance socials and attending my dance performances. Love you, Mom. I could see in her eyes that she sees how happy I get when I’m basking in my greatness, and so I welcome my mother to bask in my self- love with me too.  

I know I’m not the only one, but my family bonds through roasting each other and calling out each other’s insecurities. It’s a weird human normality, but it’s always a chance to stand up for myself and hype myself up— proudly. My mom talking to my aunties about how great – and how not great- I am are all a part of having a big family who genuinely loves me for all that I am. I live wholeheartedly on having a completely balanced life, and even with these negative comments coming from my blood— that itself multiplies my love for my body tenfold. People outside of my race who comment on my body get their comparisons to celebrities and athletes that are known through the media, entertainment industry, or “because they know someone who is also Polynesian.” I am Samoan and Tongan, which I guess makes it tricky for people to guess. Samoans and Tongans are very close islands in Polynesia, so if one was called the other of course just like every other ethnic person, they will feel some type of way for being assumed as a different culture. The last thing that a person wants is to insult a very big person, so everyone approaches me with a caution warning sign before asking me about my culture based on their first observation of me. The crazy thing is that when I say I’m both Samoan and Tongan they say, “Oh I can tell!” I feel like people say this to get a sort of connection with me because they want to be right about me. The way I respond to ignorance is simply by walking away because I will not tolerate being exoticized or to fulfill their desire to want to be right about me. I appreciate the recognition of my culture that people see when they look at me, and I channel that energy into pushing myself to understanding people for their interests instead of basing the first impression on what they look like. 

The Polynesian community are known mostly in society as athletes and entertainers. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Troy Polamalu, Jason Momoa, Dinah Jane, Parris Goebel, and Veronica Pome’e are one of the most prominent role models that represent our Polynesian community in their life’s work. Just like every other culture region, there are different physical attributes throughout each individual culture. When people outside of my culture comment on my body and appearance, they are looking at my thick thighs, big calves, “strongeness,” and long curly hair. When people question my physical appearance my answer is always, “Well, I’m Samoan and Tongan.” These are physical genes that I have inherited from my ancestors. My ancestors are from tiny little islands in the ginormous Pacific Ocean. God had to make these people strong enough to survive off the land that was limited around them, so of course I look like I belong treading the ocean waters— That’s on good strong genes! I am grateful for this body I was born into because it is a perfectly capable vessel to pursue my dreams and conquer my goals.

My relationship with food before was, in my eyes at the time, a beautiful symphony. Food was an escape, a happy place. I was never a picky eater, and especially loved authentic foods from around the world. My favorite to name would be mulipipi (turkey butt), boiled fish eye soup, and chitlins (pig or cow intestine). I love trying new foods, and making the statement that yes, I’m about to grub—and then a nap would follow immediately after. Now, my current relationship with food is that I’m a growing vegan of 3 years. I’ve chosen this journey because I admired the long lasting health benefits and other lifestyle changes that come with choosing to eat predominantly plant based— and I’m saving the earth too? Triple win! I’ve always loved a challenge, and I’m a hard advocate for eating healthy and sustaining our Earth’s natural environment. I still have my cheat days, but will only resort to vegetarian or on really special days, pescatarian. However, if I have never had it before, then I absolutely have to try it. Eating plant based has not changed my body weight or size at all either, which makes me convinced that I’m exactly how I’m supposed to be. Today, my happy place is still in food, and being completely aware of what’s going on in my body is the bonus of me living a longer happier life. 

Dance has been a part of my life since I was 5 years old. I danced hula and Tahitian up until I was 17 years old, and Samoan, Tongan, Maori, and Fijian all through college for Camp Unity— which is a Polynesian summer camp in Daly City, CA—the SJSU Polynesian Club, and for extended family functions. In Polynesian traditions, for every big family event like weddings, family reunions, milestone celebrations, or special birthdays— we love to put on a show of dance numbers, usually by the young ones of the family, as offerings and entertainment to the person we are celebrating, our elders, and the rest of our whole family. The grand finale is a freestyle solo that is traditionally performed by the eldest daughter of the family, and in Tongan it’s called the tau’olunga. In Samoan it’s called taualuga and the dancer is the taupo. I love being the taupo for these family functions because in this moment, I am just feeling and allowing my energy to flow with grace and love while my family is coming up dancing with me, proudly yelling “CHEEEHOOOOO,” and slapping money onto my skin and showering it above me. The money on the dance floor is an offering for the person or family of people we came together to celebrate. I love dancing for my ancestors and angels in heaven with my blood family here on earth. Growing up with these traditions has instilled that I feel the most beautiful when I’m dancing.

Aside from Polynesian dancing, I’m that friend that no matter where I am, I’m gonna dance if my soul summons it. Dancing makes me so happy because it’s the best way I can express my big energy. After college, I wanted to be active in some kind of sport. I am competitive, a natural team player, and I love being a part of an intimate community. I love contact sports because I love competition, but had to stop playing because I had over 10 concussions to count by the time I was 20 years old. I’ve played basketball since I was 9-years-old and got my first concussion when I was 14-years-old. I was a very aggressive and active player, and was always the biggest girl on the court. When I dove for the ball to claim possession, I collided with the opponent player’s shoulder and slowly blacked out and was immediately taken to the ER. After that one concussion, I kept getting smaller ones over the years as my team’s biggest center post player. The last concussion I had I was playing Lacrosse for SJSU’s Club Sports Team, and after that one, I had to completely stop playing contact sports.  So I chose to dance. Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries can increase the risk of developing dementia, even after 30 years. This was the perfect sport for me because dancing also helps with spatial memory, retention, and boosting my cognitive skills.  I got started on my dance journey through heels choreography because I truly admired owning my femininity through a challenge of dancing in heels. 

I discovered the body positivity community when I began my dance journey in 2018. Heels choreography, specifically in the Bay Area, highlights self love and body positivity. There is just something about dancing in heels with bad ass bitches of all backgrounds and sizes that is so special— especially when there are no creepy dudes to hit on you. Choreographers like @vibe.withme, @cosmicallyshonna, @haleyburrr, and @kaiyadionne are only a few of my favorites to name that I’ve come to love as genuine people, as well. After every class, my cup is full of a love that nobody can take away from me. These dance classes bring us women together to show up, choose to love ourselves, and to support each other after that and along the way. The love is also taken to social media where we are following each other and showing love and support on each other’s dance posts and selfies. Surrounding myself with this community has instilled a practice that loving myself through dance inspires others to love themselves too. This has changed the way I look at my body because it shows me that my body allows me to do amazing things like learn a sexy ass floor piece and getting camera ready to perform it right after. 

Now, I choose to accept beauty standards that challenge every aspect of what is “acceptable” in mainstream media. I choose to support artists, actresses, and models that represent the spectrum of beauty that falls in between all categories of size, color, gender, sex, disability, all of it. I choose to believe that my body today is beautiful and sexy, especially when I’m eating a full course seafood boil with my family or when I’m eating a ton of junk food with my friends. I choose to love my body in the face of negativity because it’s my body, not theirs. This body is taking me through my lifetime of happiness and its bigness represents my big energy.

My relationship now with my body image still fluctuates between being comfortable with showing my tummy or not, but I’m also learning to love different styles of clothing that aren’t meant to look skinny. Skinny jeans, crop tops, and bralettes are just as sexy as flare pants, baggy sweats, and loose streetwear tees. I’m learning that sexiness and sensuality isn’t based on how I look, but how I fully feel in that moment. My biggest insecurity growing up was my legs, because it was the most prominent part of my body that people loved to talk about. I hated talking about my legs and even looked up procedures to see if it was even possible to make them smaller. However, now I actually love my legs the most because they are literally my calves of steel. I have never had a leg injury, only too many concussions from playing sports, but my legs are what keeps me active.

What made me accept my body was consistently choosing to accept it when someone was in my face telling me not to. I was being named as “Tree” because I was the tallest girl in my class up until 8th grade, or “Whale” because I was the biggest post player on the court. Coincidentally, I have always loved trees and whales, so I really never allowed things like that to bother me. I internalize my pain in the privacy of my own space and give myself love. I have at least 5 people in this world I can turn to when I need extra love, which then eventually makes me unafraid to feel my emotions through my pride and loyalty for myself. It starts with acknowledging that the negative comments I receive are all based on the same idea that I am physically a bigger girl than what society depicts how women should look. Fuck that shit!!! My life is better, cuter, and happier, through my lens so I’ll choose bravery and courage and will speak about myself with love instead. I refuse to talk to myself negatively, especially when it was about my body— because that was something I couldn’t change, especially as a 9-year-old kid.

At this age, I had to choose to be the one to hype myself up, honestly because I knew no one even knew how to do it. It was apparent that I looked very different from my classmates and so my size was different too— that was very obvious to me. But being “thick” wasn’t cool then, so my friends would say things like “you’re not even that big,” or “you’re very proportional,” but I knew they were just being nice, because yes the fuck I was that big. I knew the bullies were just trying to be funny, so they chose to laugh at other kids obnoxiously, so I also made it my responsibility to stand up for those kids and to be friends with them. I have always been attracted to being friends with introverts because they always ended up being the funniest ones in class and my bestest friend there.  I felt like I had to mostly “play the strong role,” because no one was able to be strong for me. I come off to people as confident and strong in my beliefs— so that’s the role I strive to see in myself too. I wanted to always be the bigger person, for myself and anyone else who felt like they did not belong at that table. It is genuinely fun for me to be the person in the room who decides to bring inclusivity and good energy to each and every interaction.

My advice to anyone else who is struggling with their body image right now is that the most important image is the image you think of yourself. The love you wish from the world is the same love that you can give yourself. You can make as much of love as you want, and you decide who gets to bask in it. If people are talking about you, challenge yourself by giving them a reflection of themselves. Be brave with your body, speak up for others, and give more love to yourself and don’t skip a day. Some advice I would tell my younger self is to love yourself more than anyone else possibly can, every single day. This self- love journey will last longer than any other love you will come across.” -Lorna

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