Elena: The Sewing Queen

This is story 1 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Elena flaunting the dress and decorations she made at her Barbie themed birthday party!

Elena is known for her kawaii style and homemade outfits. Her life motto is to, “always be cute.” So it’s no surprise that her outfits are anything but basic! Elena strives to be different and takes every opportunity to showcase her creations to the public. Her love for sewing could be attributed to her maternal grandmother.

Elena was 7 years old when she sewed for the first time. When her grandma would visit from Mexico and stay with her family for a while, Elena noticed that she would always be working on a project. Her grandma would mostly hand stitch and use her sewing machine. Curious Elena would always ask her grandma what she was working on, and with time, her grandmother offered to teach her exactly what she was doing. In the Mexican culture, sewing is geared more towards women, so Elena’s grandma didn’t feel the need to teach her brothers. However, Elena strongly believes that sewing is a skill that everyone can benefit from.

The first project that her grandmother gave her was to embroider a flower. Her grandma drew a simple flower with leaves on a piece of cotton. Elena did her best to follow grandma’s pencil drawing and sew right on top of it. She remembers feeling excited about sewing independently because she knew the next step would be learning how to cross stitch. Why did she want to learn how to cross stitch? Because one of grandma’s cross stitch pattern books had an elephant wearing a party hat that she was dying to make. Making that cute elephant was definitely one of her goals, but she knew she had to master her basics first. With time, Elena eventually went on to make that elephant she so desperately wanted to make!

Young Elena proudly showing off her flower embroidery

From there on, Elena’s love for sewing grew. Her mom taught her how to use the sewing machine for the first time when she was 13 years old. Like her grandma, her mom would use her sewing machine for little projects here and there. Elena remembers all the times her mom helped her make Halloween costumes. She would participate in sewing up different parts of her costume, which gave her a sense of pride. Halloween is one of Elena’s favorite holidays and takes it very seriously with her outfits – a holiday meant for her creativity to shine.

By the time Elena was in high school, her interest in creating clothes for herself was at an all time high. The first garment she ever made was a strapless dress for her Senior Project. The Senior Project required all seniors at her high school to work with a mentor to learn a new skill. After learning that new skill, a final paper would have to be submitted. By this time, Elena was confident using the sewing machine, but didn’t know how to make a pattern and put it all together. Her mentor was a tailor who made men’s pants. Pattern making has been a skill she has continued to use ever since.

“He never really did womenswear, but he knew the pattern making basics, so together we made a very simple strapless dress with a sweetheart neckline and a straight short skirt,” Elena shared. “It was fun to create and made me feel confident about going into fashion design.”

When it came to choosing her major in college, Elena thought long and hard about what she’s passionate about and what she enjoys doing. Growing up, her mom always encouraged her to pursue a career in the medical field, specifically nursing. Elena didn’t quite know what she wanted to major in, but one thing she knew from the get was that she definitely wouldn’t be getting into the medical field. It took her a while to really sit and think about what route she wanted to take in college, but it all really boiled down to what she enjoyed doing on her free time.

“I took time to think what I like to do, and I landed on that I like to make things,” she said. “I say this vaguely because I did all types of crafts growing up: hand stitching, painting, paper crafts, corsage making, you name it! But overall, it was always me creating with my hands. But when I laid it all out, it all came down to fabrics being my most used medium of choice. This made it clear in my mind so I was able to choose and pursue fashion design!”

Elena and her models rocking her outfits for the college fashion show

Her parents were very unsure of her decision to pursue fashion. She understood that it’s typical for immigrant parents to want their children to pick “good” majors so they can get a job to make good money. To her parents, fashion design wasn’t a stable or profitable field. Even during her time in college, major already declared, her mom would voice her concerns, asking her daughter what she planned to do with a fashion degree. Being a good sport and knowing her parents were just worried, Elena would brush it off and jokingly troll them back saying, “beats nursing!” The disapproval and low-key shade continued on post-graduation, when she was on the hunt to find a job. But one thing about Elena – she is confident in every choice that she makes. She knows that at the end of the day, the only person that needs to be happy with her decisions is herself. Luckily, with time, Elena’s mom learned to be more supportive of her style and passions.

Elena’s style is anything but minimalistic. Everything she wears, creates, and showcases on her body are big, loud, colorful, and over the top! Elena describes her personality and style in 3 words: Kawaii, Camp, and Maximalism. Kawaii is the Japanese movement of everything and anything cute. This can be cartoon characters, pastel colors, bows, and anything adorable! Camp is self-exaggerated, not serious, and of course, fun! Elena achieves this style by wearing fun / odd things like birds in her hair, fun purses like a LEGO brick, and anything that is whimsical! Maximalism is doing the most at all times! To Elena, “More is always more!” If it’s not colorful, fun, loud, over the top, cute, or an attention grabber, Elena is not interested!

Elena has never felt insecure about showcasing her creations in public. Her favorite thing to do is wear a new design that she completed in public. She loves seeing people’s reactions when they compliment her and she confesses that she made it. Elena gets so happy when strangers and those around her admire and appreciate her work. Deep down, she also hopes her creativity inspires someone else to try sewing! Elena radiates confidence wherever she goes in whatever she wears. What’s important to her is that she dresses for herself and her own enjoyment. She doesn’t care what people think, but if they love it, even better!

Her style also comes with obsessions. Her current obsessions are Barbie and Baby Yoda. But just because these are her current obsessions, doesn’t mean she has forgotten about her past ones! The truth is, Elena never gets over anything that peaked her interest. She may have a couple of obsessions at the moment, but it just gets added to her list of things she’s in love with. When something from a past obsession comes up, Elena is reeled back in and enjoys it all over again. She keeps her long list of obsessions as inspiration to create. Though Elena has categorized her style in 3 main categories, her style could also be broken down in the different “eras” of her life.

In high school, Elena’s obsession was all about Rock music. Her all time favorite band was the band HIM. Anything the band members wore, she would do her best to find a piece that looked similar. In college, her Kawaii obsession started because she decided to watch all 200 episodes of Sailor Moon her Freshman / Sophomore year. She watched the show here and there as a kid, but never watched it in its entirety. Sailor Moon was her gateway into the Kawaii community. It definitely influenced her style completely, though she found it easy to adopt because her childhood obsessions were Sanrio and Pokémon. Post-College – Now, Elena’s current obsession is Drag Culture. It all started when a co-worker asked if she was keeping up with RuPaul’s Drag Race. She had watched earlier seasons, but fell off. She told her co-worker that she would re-watch them, and since then, the rest is history.

Elena on stage at The Warfield with Bianca Del Rio, wearing their matching Flames Dresses

“One of the best designs I made for an event would be my recreation of RuPaul’s Drag Race S6 winner, Bianca Del Rio’s Flames dress!,” Elena said when asked what designs she was most proud of. “I made it to wear at her ‘Not Today Satan’ tour stop in SF. At the meet and greet, she was so impressed that the copy was so good – she makes all her own drag outfits – she ended up inviting me on stage at The Warfield for a picture and everyone at the sold-out show got to see it!”

Now, Elena’s style is heavily influenced by Kawaii and Drag Culture. It fed into her love for Maximalism and Camp. The mutual love for RuPaul’s Drag Race got the 2 co-workers to have a friendship outside of the work environment. They would go to Drag shows in the city on the weekends and go see Rugirls, as well as other local talent. Some specific queens that have inspired Elena are: Bianca del Rio, Naomi Smalls, Bob the Drag Queen, Aquaria, and especially Valentina. Fashion wise, Valentina is what Elena strives to be. Through online and real life events, she has managed to fully immerse herself in all the styles she loves.

It’s safe to say that Elena has a very particular style and draws inspiration from so many sources. Her style is so playful, quirky, and unique that dating wise, it may be challenging to find someone that matches her style to a T. That was the case when she met her boyfriend, Sam. They shared in interest in video games on the Nintendo, but other than that commonality, the 2 lovebirds came from different backgrounds and styles. She describes their styles as polar opposites. Elena is all about coordinating outfits, and the very first time her and Sam matched was for a date to the Museum Of Ice Cream. She did a western pink look and made a matching bow tie for him to wear. Even though what he was wearing wasn’t anything flashy, he felt that it was a bit much and didn’t want to draw any attention. But with time, he saw how much dressing up meant to Elena and has learned to not only appreciate it, but go along with it.

Currently, Elena is balancing out her side passion of sewing with her current job. Her job is so flexible Post-Covid because it’s hybrid – work from home and in office. Now that she has some days of working from home, Elena finds herself working on garments during her breaks. She even found her rhythm noticing that she prefers to do work at night and projects during the day – a concept that would’ve never been a reality pre-pandemic.

One of Elena’s favorite pieces she made in college, Pop Tart Dress!

Generally, a simple design that she has done before or has the pattern for can take anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks to complete from beginning to end. If it’s a new pattern or something she hasn’t made before, it can take anywhere from 2.5 to 3 weeks. This all depends on multiple factors – when the garment is needed, if she has to get materials, how complicated it is to make, and if there’s anything going on in her personal life. If the project is for an event, Elena is very focused on sticking to the schedule to get it done on time, but if it’s a regular garment for no special occasion, she’s more relaxed getting it done. Elena is always working on a project, researching a project, or finding inspiration for the next design.

Once a garment or project is complete, Elena likes to give herself a mini break in-between. During this time, she is thinking of what to do next. This includes doing the research, looking up references, inspiration photos, and more. She admits that there are times where her mini breaks from project to project can be longer than her usual 1 – 2 weeks. Before the pandemic, Elena doesn’t recall a time where she had full on burnout with her projects. She remembers using the high of finishing a design to motivate her to start on the next project. Now 2 plus years into the pandemic, her creating fatigue is more apparent. After her Barbie themed birthday party, where she designed her dress, props, and goodies, Elena found herself in a rut. For 2 months she struggled to get in the mood to sew. It was to the point where she couldn’t even get herself to be in her sewing space at all. The burnout was really stressful, but she chose to focus her energy on other things that brought her joy, like journaling, playing Pokémon, and spending time with loved ones.

“I felt like if I spend the energy somewhere else, eventually I’ll get back to a clearer mindset and sew,” she said truthfully. “It took a while, but I can say that it did help, although I can still feel its effects. Now I’m just trying to find a better way to pace myself in projects to avoid burnout in the future… So, I do my best to rest in between projects but always try to keep something in mind.”

A common question that Elena gets asked often is if she plans to make her side passions a full-time job. In college, she did have an Etsy store where she sold her handmade hairclips, but eventually she had to close it down when school and work piled up. She thinks pursuing her creative passions full-time would be fun and exciting, but at the moment, she loves her job way too much to leave at this time. For the time being, she plans to continue to create mainly for herself. However, she is always down for a fun request. She doesn’t take custom requests often, but once in a while she will take up alterations, costume help, table centerpieces, and other fun crafts. The first time she made garments for someone other than herself was when 2 of her best friends graduated college. They asked if Elena could make and design both of their graduation dresses – she was a bit hesitant at first because she was so used to creating for herself, but in the end was glad she took on the projects because they both turned out beautiful.

Elena’s loves for creating doesn’t just stop at clothing. She will take one off commissions like making center pieces for parties or making corsages. She says that if she didn’t do fashion in school, she would’ve loved to pursue party planning or wedding planning. Themed parties have always been something that interested Elena, even at a young age. She would beg her mom to get the whole shebang at Party City – the matching plates, cups, napkins, tablecloth, signs, and anything that came in the full set. Recently, she even made all the decorations, props, and her outfit for her own birthday party. Of course it was focused on one of her current obsessions – Barbie! Parties hold a special place in Elena’s heart, and she always tries to perfect every project that she takes on.

Handmade dress on her cousin’s Ultima Moñeca

“Recently I did a Quince dress for a Build-a-Bear Dino for my cousin’s Quinceñera!,” She shares passionately. “Traditionally during the party, a Quinceñera is presented with ‘La Ultima Moñeca’ aka ‘The Last Doll.’ It is to signify that she is no longer a little girl and is now an adult who doesn’t play with toys. I let my cousin pick a stuffed animal from Build-a-Bear and I created a 1 to 1 dress based on her Quince dress!”

Social media is an important tool for Creatives to share their work. Elena confidently admits that she likes to promote her Instagram as if she has thousands of followers – even though she has yet to reach 1,000. Instagram is her platform of choice, and she uses it to showcase most of her projects. She makes it a point to post a new outfit when she wears it out and describes the process and inspiration behind the piece. Elena also likes to implement Instagram Stories to show the step by step process, then she posts the finished process as a highlight on her profile. She has taken a crack at Instagram Reels as well by pairing her videos and photos with songs that go with her theme or that has inspired her when making the piece. Elena has tried streaming herself sewing on Twitch in the past and loved that people were chatting and asking questions throughout the process. She hopes to start streaming again this year.

With all these ideas and future plans, Elena can’t put her finger on just one specific person that has supported her throughout her journey. She considers everyone in her inner circle to be someone who has been in her corner. She knows that everyone on the sidelines are rooting for her every step of the way. These people include her youngest brother, Jason, her close college friends, her “Babushkas,” her boyfriend, Sam, and of course, her grandma.

Elena’s advice to other creatives is: Do whatever makes you happy! As long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, it will all be worthwhile. Her advice for fashion creatives is to remember to always make clothes for you. Elena wants fashion creatives to keep in mind that they are dressing either themselves or their ideal client, so if someone isn’t on board with what you create, it doesn’t matter because you’re not designing for them. She remembers that that’s the advice she had to follow in college. Fashion design made her happy, and she didn’t feel the need to explain to others why she chose this route.

Many creatives are usually asked, ‘are you able to make money off ‘Insert craft here‘?'” Elena said. “And I get it, especially if that is to become your field of work, you want to be able to make a living. But to me, the true goal is to make yourself happy. Pursue your craft and passions for self-happiness and fulfillment, with that money will follow.”   

Elena’s motto and goal in life is to always “Be Cute.” Through her style and designs, she wants to serve campy cute, maximal cute, kawaii cute, spooky cute, and any and every category of cute that there is. As a creative, her brain in constantly thinking of the next thing to create, and she is embracing every step of the way.

Elena happily posing for another photo

Summer Gon’ Get Whatever Body I Give It

Summer gon’ get whatever body I give it.

That’s a mother fucking note to self I need to internalize.

Please listen up, if you find that this applies…

Body positive, but the inner work is never done,

I say this because I hit an all time low in 2021.

My Tatay died, the pandemic continued, Tita-Lola died too.

My heart was broken, but I still had to find a way to get through.

I have always been a foodie, so much more in 2021 and now,

I had to pick myself back up and didn’t know exactly how.

I was depressed as shit, not really in the mood,

the only thing I found comfort in was eating bomb ass food.

Yeah, I’ll admit it, there is no shame in what I said.

Eating made me happy, it was 1 of the few things I didn’t dread.

On top of losing loved ones, the pandemic bloomed fear and uncertainty.

I feared I couldn’t get out of the funk I was in, and that’s what worried me.

I found joy in food, because it reminded me of better days –

of get togethers, pre-pandemic, family events, and many other ways.

If eating is what I enjoyed, it was okay if I was using it to not be so sad,

for I know I was using it to cope, and this solution wasn’t that bad.

But I was blocking out my emotions, emotionally constipated if you will.

I was using my love of food to hopefully get that void to fill.

Body positive, that’s what I strive to be,

trying to remind myself that my appearance and weight is not what makes me me.

But I’m human, insecurities are nothing new,

not to mention that it’s pretty clear I gained more than a few.

I wish I could say that I’m 100% confident and do not give a shit,

but it’s hard when I look in the mirror and don’t like how things are starting to fit.

Summer is coming, hotter weather approaches, and I shouldn’t get upset,

for this summer is gon’ get whatever body it will get.

In the past, I would talk down on myself and try to make me feel more low,

but now I’m kinder with myself and know that I can learn from this experience to grow.

My life is happening now, I’m not waiting until I’m fully happy with what I see.

I can still appreciate my body in the now, even if it’s not where I want it to be.

Body positive, but being aware that I can do better,

I need to feel comfortable with myself and know when I need to check her.

Be kind with yourself, and you yourself will blossom,

your body is beautiful in every stage, and that’s what makes it awesome.

Currently, my body reflects how I dealt with my sorrow for some time,

I gained some weight in the making and that’s not a fuckin’ crime.

I thank my body for everything that it was, is, and everything that it will be,

for this summer gon’ get whatever body I give it, and it will just be simply me.

You Versus You

You know that saying that says the only competition you have is versus yourself? That you shouldn’t compare yourself to others? That’s advice we all got since we were young. Even though, ironically, from the day we are born we’re being compared to others. But when does the comparisons and competition stop? How do we expect to not juxtapose ourselves to those around us when it’s all we know how to do?

Even as a baby, we were all constantly being checked up on to see if we reach the benchmarks to tell our parents what’s “normal” and what’s not – how much we weighed, how tall we were, what age we started to talk, walk, and so forth. Our growth and development was being compared to babies similar in age. That’s how they determined what was common and uncommon for that age group. It’s what’s expected the first couple of years of our lives. Of course, these benchmarks are put in place to help the child. It also helps doctors and parents detect if their little one need extra care / attention for any reason. It’s necessary to ensure the child’s development is on track.

The comparing continues into our early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescent years. Are we performing well academically, are we meeting the standards for our age, are we on track to success? A lot of these benchmarks are set up for the youth, who will later be young adults, to succeed. So don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why comparisons are necessary for important things like education, health, and a person’s well being. As a parent, teacher, and caregiver, you want to make sure that you are doing your part so your child doesn’t fall behind.

But we all know that competition and comparisons don’t just end at the necessary benchmarks to ensure a person’s welfare. Growing up, you could’ve gotten compared to your siblings, family friend’s kids, cousins, other classmates, and other peers. The competition and comparisons are not just limited to education and health. Appearance based comparisons, athletic comparisons, grade comparisons, having your weaknesses pointed out in parallel to someone else’s accomplishments, financial competition, and sometimes even just personal biases, could’ve been put on your shoulders at a young age. It instills the belief that we need to do better, be better, and always be the one in favor.

On the bright side, comparing ourselves or being compared to others can act as motivation to better ourselves and our current situation. As the cringe saying goes, “Let the haters be your motivators.” We try to push ourselves to reach our maximum potential, and sometimes, it takes seeing your peers putting in work and being successful to give you that push. Having someone compare you to someone else can fuel you to prove them wrong. For some, hearing someone tell them they can’t do something is all the motivation they need to give their all and make it happen.

Yes, comparisons and competition can have its pros, but it can also have its cons. When you grow up to believe that everyone is competition, you will constantly think that what you’re doing or where you’re at in life is never good enough. It’s the toxic motivation that will fuel you, but also destroy you. If you’re constantly using others to power your drive, you’re no longer doing it for yourself. You’ll look back and realize that your motives were charged by negative feelings that someone else instilled in you. And when you let negativity steer you in life, you’ll always be left unsatisfied.

I feel the focus of our competition changes as we maneuver through life’s many stages. For example, if you’re a child, it could be who’s the best runner, the best in a subject, who gets the best grades. When we’re teens, the competition seems to focus around outer appearance – competition between who is more attractive, who wears the nicest clothes, who’s the best in a sport, who is academically rising above the standard. Though what we’re comparing to others changes, the fact of the matter is: we go through our whole lives comparing and competing to be better than our peers and those around us.

But since we are taught to compare ourselves to others at such a young age, it only makes sense that everyone eventually compares themselves in other aspects of life as well. And I know that there will be some people that will try to flex and say that they have never compared themselves or felt like certain aspects of their lives were a competition. However, we all can agree that who ever claims that is 100% full of shit. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, as it’s something we all do. What’s important is how we outgrow the notion that everyone and life is a competition.

As I reached my young adulthood into the present, I started to see a shift in what things I thought was a competition. I knew my ass was full on adulting when who was prettier than me, skinnier than me, or had a nicer ass than me didn’t really get my insecurities jumping anymore. It was when I started keeping mental notes about who was successful in their career already, who was making moves and going for their dreams, who was on the road to becoming financially stable and well that had me realize I’m entering new competition territory.

Especially since we live in the age of social media, where everything is posted about, celebrated, and in our face, it’s hard to ignore. How do we expect ourselves to mind our own business, only worry about ourselves, and stay in our own lane when we’re literally addicted to platforms that are meant to share and show off? It’s crazy how different accounts and people we know can trigger different insecurities: our appearance, our health, our weight, where we live, what level of education you have, your stability, your job, your relationship, your relationship with your family, how happy you are, how confident you seem, the list goes on and fuckin on.

I fell victim to the endless comparisons that led me to constantly feel shitty about myself. I would genuinely feel happy for my peers when they posted accomplishments, great news, posted a new job, etc., so it’s not like I would be hating. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t reflect on my own accomplishments and where I was at in my life. You can’t help but look at yourself and make it about you – we’re human, we be selfish like that.

I feel like my view on comparing myself and my life to others I know in real life and on social media changed after I graduated college. I was on cloud 9 after I graduated, but if you read and keep up with my blog, you’ll know that that feeling was very short lived. My greatest accomplishment was graduating college. But after I graduated I got the post-grad blues hard. I was very quiet about my real feelings post-grad. If someone was wondering how I was doing just by looking through my social media, they’d probably think that I was living my best life because I earned my degree.

Clearly that was not the case. I was struggling to figure out what direction to take my life post-graduation. Prior to graduation, it already dawned on me that social media is fake as fuck, people only post what they want you to see, you’ll never see the bigger picture, and everyone – regardless of how hard you try not to – try to uphold a certain image of ourselves from what we post. That was old news to me, and I had even spent my whole writing career on the magazine focusing on those topics. That was my niche. And my post-grad confusion helped confirm those theories that I already knew to be true.

Post-graduation made me realize that everyone is just trying to find their own way – regardless of how happy you seem to be on social media. And maybe that happiness projected onto social media platforms are genuine happiness, but there will always be something someone is working through, working on, or thinking about. I saw people I graduated with go down a completely different route than me. Some went the traditional route, some went into something completely different entirely, some worked on independent projects, some are still figuring it out – and that’s okay. We are all simply trying to see what works for us. There is not just 1 path to success.

I guess what also helped me not compare myself to others is simply being confident in my choices. It sounds easy to do, but for me, being confident in what decisions I chose to take post-graduation was a challenge. I was so hesitant and afraid that I would be making the wrong move for my future, and truly couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with myself. In those moments, I did nothing and stayed stagnant. But there is definitely beauty in the struggle. In fact, that’s part of the reason why this blog was revived. I didn’t know what the fuck to do with my life, and it was getting overwhelming. I was over thinking it so hard that I started to get frustrated that my lack of confidence in my decisions had my life at a complete standstill.

I figured that reviving my blog and posting consistently is a small big step that I could do for nobody else but myself. And I’m grateful I did. A lot of decisions had to be made post-graduation, and I was tired of living in fear. I figured a wrong decision is better than no decision. I couldn’t just wait for shit to fall in my lap, because it wouldn’t, shit doesn’t work like that. I had to get the ball rolling to see results, and if it’s the wrong decision, then so be it. My road to success is my journey alone, no one else’s.

We’re all on our own journey. No two experiences are the same. What works for someone else may not work for another. Or it may work, but it’s not what you want. Everyone has their own preferences and own personal road blocks. It’s hard to retrain your brain to not see others as competition since it’s what’s innate for us to do. You can try to compare your reality to someone else’s, but you’ll never really know first hand all the work, dedication, and complications it took to get to that point.

In reality, your biggest competition is yourself. Whether that be silencing the self-doubt, trying to find inner-motivation to get what you want, or forcing yourself to do the small steps. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy and #1 hater. Especially when you’re wasting your time comparing yourself to others. Yes, wasting time. It’s pointless to dwell on others and their accomplishments because they’re not you. No matter what, at the end of the day only you can change and direct your future. Nobody is going to come around and change your mindset, hand you opportunities, or do the work for you. So the sooner you realize that comparisons are the thief of joy is best. It’ll always be you vs. you.

When you realize that you are in competition with no one, that’s when you’ll start to flourish mentally. There’s no room for jealousy when you’re doing your own thing. And jealousy is such a consuming ugly feeling. It only breeds more negativity and self-hate. When you come to terms with the fact that everyone is just trying to figure it all out regardless of how successful they come off to be, you’ll see that everyone is working through their own forks in the road. And with that being said, instead of being your worst enemy, attempt to be your biggest cheerleader. It can be hard when all you know is negative self-talk, but negative self-talk will literally get you nowhere.

Understanding that no one’s life is picture perfect is such a humbling realization. It gives you the opportunity to allow yourself to just focus on you without pressure to out do anyone else. Because I’m focusing on myself, I am genuinely happy for those around me that are making it happen for themselves. I love seeing my friends, family, acquaintances, and even people I follow on social media that I don’t even know in real life, be successful. It’s an amazing feeling seeing other people go and get theirs, especially when it’s people close to me. Because I know first hand the personal struggle that goes into making your dream a reality.

I once knew a person that was so insecure that they thought everyone else’s accomplishment magnified their own lack of achievement. When it was time to clap for their friends’ success, they did so with bitterness in their heart. That’s something I never got – people being genuinely salty and offended when someone accomplishes something that they worked hard for. People that hype you can also be disguised as jealous haters. Haters not only hate you for getting / achieving what they want, but they also hate themselves for not making it happen.

We are all at different stages of life. Life isn’t a competition, even though it may feel like that sometimes. Your only competition is yourself. Only you will get in the way of your own success. Be happy for those that are finding genuine happiness in their own path. Clap for others when it is their turn, because your turn is coming up.

Marinelle: The Journey Continues

Story 10 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 MY story, written in my own words:

This collaboration / series is one that I hold dear to my heart because I have been a body positive advocate for a couple of years, and have made it one of my missions as a writer. This is a topic I am very passionate about – having individuals feel comfortable in their body regardless of societal body standards. I would like to add that being body positive does not mean that you are confident and reassured in your body at all times. That belief is discouraging and just all around false. Being body positive is definitely a lifelong journey. And I ask that in your responses / blog post, that you be as transparent as possible. I pride myself in sharing real, authentic, and unfabricated stories – being truthful is key.

Marinelle Cabillo

“Quoted above is a paragraph taken from the original email I sent to all of the candidates who were interested in being a part of this Body Positive Series. I was ecstatic when I finally had all 9 slots taken for this project. It has always been a goal of mine as a writer to focus more on the body positive community and document people’s self-love journeys. Collabing on this series with like-minded, brutally honest individuals re-sparked my interest and passion on this community and reminded me why I write – to reach others and share the stories of your every day person. Reading and hearing other people’s struggles and downfalls made me realize that a lot of us share the same feelings and experiences in different ways. One thing that we all can agree on – our self-love journey is never linear.

The belief that people who identify as body positive are self-assured and satisfied with what they see in the mirror all the time is inaccurate. I try to emphasize that a lot in my writing since I am known for being a body positive advocate. Nobody’s journey is linear. You just don’t wake up one day and realize you want to change your mindset, your beliefs, and everything you believed to be acceptable and unacceptable, and just start off with a clean slate. It takes a lot of highs and lows, learning and unlearning, 2 steps forward and 3 steps back, and so forth. You will eventually get to a better place, but the journey is never lateral. You will have your off days, and that’s okay.

I tried to write this post in advance because it’s the big blog post #100. I was about 10 paragraphs deep, and the writer’s block was ridiculous. I wasn’t in love with what I was writing, and I didn’t like the direction I was going in. I originally was going to start off with how I was in 2016, and what steps I took to accept and love my body. But the more I added to it, the more I hated it. Though it wasn’t my intent, I felt like it was giving off the “I didn’t like this, so I changed this, and now I’m enlightened!” vibe. And that wasn’t true. Yes, I changed my mindset and had to put in a lot of work to get to this point, but I didn’t want it to seem like I had a problem, I overcame it, and now I’m coastin. Nope. That wasn’t the message I wanted to emphasize, because the journey continues… for life. So I scrapped it all and started over.

When I say that it took a lot of learning and unlearning to get to where I am today, I mean it. Deciding to love and accept my body for what it was and simultaneously declaring Women Gender Studies as my minor in 2016, really got the ball rolling on changing my mindset and views. I really had to reevaluate what I grew up to believe was acceptable and unacceptable, and how those views and feelings contributed to my inner turmoil. I had to reflect on parts of myself that I did not want to question or explore, but in order to heal and plant new seeds of thinking, I had to pull at the ugly roots that had planted in me so long ago. The Women Gender Studies classes I was taking at the time really opened my eyes to see that these ways of thinking in terms of beauty and beauty standards, are engrained specifically into the female mind at a very young age. And because of the unrealistic standards media and society places on women, companies profit off of all our insecurities.

I refused to be the foolish consumer that only cared about my outward appearance. I had to remind myself that I was so much more. So much more than my outer beauty, than my body, than whatever version of myself I want the public and social media to see. I refused to have companies make a profit off of my insecurities, and stay in this cycle of self-hate and fake confidence disguised by likes on social media. I refused to fall into this habit of following famous people online who alter their images, and give a false sense of reality. I no longer wanted to support companies and brands that publicly excludes, alienates, and makes people feel bad about themselves for being plus-sized.

I had to be true to myself and admit that at times I could be a hater towards others based on my own insecurities. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’ve accepted that that’s the reality. I had to stop comparing myself to others. And that was something really hard to do. In the past, I would be jealous of people who had outward appearances and features that I believed to be desirable. It was really difficult for me to accept that someone else’s beauty does not overshadow my own. I had to be confident in myself and my own attributes, and separate that from my feelings of feeling worthy based on what I looked like physically. I had to engrain in my own head that I was enough, that I am worthy of self-love at any weight, and each time I fall victim to the negative self-talk, or compare myself to others, or care too much about outward appearances, I repeat the same cycles that I no longer want to continue. This world profits off of our self-hate, and I wanted no part of it.

And as time went on, I learned to literally not give a shit. I wanted to workout, not to lose weight, but because I wanted to be healthier. I no longer cared about the numbers I saw on the scale because as long as I felt good within my own skin, my actual weight didn’t matter. In fact, I wanted to gain muscle, which would realistically have me gain weight. I felt so liberated to do as I pleased without feeling guilty. Restricting myself from foods, places, and clothing was a thing of the past. I wanted to feel comfortable, happy, and at ease with myself. Doing a social media cleanse really helped me push for this change. Once I eliminated accounts and people that made me question my own self-worth, it was the first step of Game Over. What I do not see can not affect me. What I do not see can not influence me. What I choose to see and internalize is completely up to me. With time, college courses, and increasing confidence in myself by positive affirmations, I learned to dissect social media posts. I can appreciate other people’s beauty, even if it is altered, but still know that it is not reality. When I feel myself getting insecure when I hit that explore page, I’ll try to shut it down real quick. It has brought me peace to know that social media in the literal sense, does not matter. It is not something I need, and therefore, I shouldn’t try so hard to uphold a certain appearance. Basically, I shouldn’t care.

I think the pandemic was the cherry on top of the “I literally don’t give a fuck about my outward appearance” sundae. For a lot of people, the pandemic forced us to be alone with our thoughts – probably more than we wanted. Getting used to the shutdown and restrictions really had me focus on the health of me, my family, and friends, above all. I got used to not getting ready for work, not going out, not putting on makeup, not putting on clothes other than my pajamas and the occasional “walk around the neighborhood outfits.” Everything was more relaxed, even though anxieties of the outside world heightened. The uncertainty and the safety of society really had all of us on edge – from COVID, to social unrest, to targeted violence. On top of that, there were no outlets to relieve that stress, everything was shutdown. It felt like I was watching a train wreck and couldn’t turn away. I was constantly reminded of the realities of 2020.

So for me, food became my solace during the pandemic. Looking forward to a good meal that was usually through UberEats or other delivery apps was the highlight of my day / week. It made me feel good to know that I was helping keep some businesses alive during the unpredicted shutdowns. It brought me comfort to eat foods that I used to eat pre-COVID because it brought back a sense of normalcy. My relationship with food has always been a strong one. I love food. I was never a picky eater, and my parents didn’t have to worry about me not eating enough or not finishing my plate. Their concern was to get me to stop eating. And now as an adult, I’m the type of person that would rather meet up at a restaurant or grab something to eat than hangout at the club. I’d say 100% of my social life revolves around eating good food with good company. When I’m traveling and going to new places, my main focus is what I’m going to be eating. I want to try all the foods that each place is known for, and I will literally plan around what food I want to get. And with the pandemic, eating bomb food went from being a social, bonding, unwinding and having a good time, to suddenly being my comfort and sense of normalcy.

We all know that the pandemic is still going strong today – almost a year and a half later. Relying on food to give me comfort and make me feel “safe” while the world fell apart, mixed with everything being shutdown, meant that there wasn’t a lot of exercising happening on my end. Everyone joked about people coming out of quarantine putting on a lot of weight, and for me personally… where’s the lie? I’m for sure – hands down – the biggest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m not ashamed to admit that either. When the jokes of weight gain started circling early in the pandemic, I knew that I was informed enough to see the humor in some of the memes, but I also knew that there were some people out there that would really be struggling with this topic. When people around me would comment on not wanting to gain weight during the pandemic, I would get defensive and quickly add in that it’s OKAY and normal to gain weight during something as serious as a global pandemic, and it should be the last of our concerns.

It made me sad to know that during a time of crisis, people were already dreading the aftermath of the pandemic’s tole – gaining weight. When I hear people putting themselves down for not working out as much, gaining weight, or not having any motivation, I try to chime in and let them know that it’s okay to be feeling those emotions. Especially with my sisters, I find myself being overly aggressive with my messages of being content with gaining weight, but I realize that not everybody has the same outlook. For me, gaining weight during the pandemic was expected. However, I really didn’t expect COVID to be a problem to this day, I didn’t expect it to last this long. I tried my best to remind myself that my body will be changing along with the state of the world, and it’s okay. I was so used to not wearing makeup, not putting on my regular clothes, and not being in the public eye. Dare I say the homebody in me got comfortable to this new normal? Because I definitely got comfortable being comfortable and not thinking twice about how I looked!

I started working in person again in June 2020, to date, that’s over a year working in person. But during this time, up until recently, my mind is still in lockdown mode – not caring to be seen by anyone, social distancing, not having a social life outside of work, and basically living in workout leggings all the time to feel comfortable throughout the work week. My eating patterns remained the same even though I was back at work because the dreadful news of the world would still stress me out. For me, things were “back to normal” for the last year, given that I’ve been going to work Monday through Friday in person, but I would constantly be reminded of the state of the world every time I looked at my phone, turned on the news, or went out in public. For me, the masks are a constant reminder of the world we are living in. Living day to day for the last year and a half not knowing if you could be the carrier, have the sickness yourself, or infect someone you love is such a stressful way of living. I constantly had to weigh out the pros and the cons of hanging out with people outside of my family. It was a gamble every time, and I hate that to this day, every choice I make to expose myself to public places can result in a horrible ending. On top of that, restaurants remained closed, there were still many restrictions, and it felt like we were far from seeing a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

When vaccines started rolling out, and things started to slowly open back up, I definitely felt the results of my anxiety filled binge eating patterns that were heightened throughout the pandemic. My friends and I were vaccinated, and started to see each other more regularly again. With time and more people getting vaccinated, restrictions started to ease up little by little. I was very slowly getting my social life back, and that meant wearing clothes other than my comfy workout leggings that I live in every day at work. I mean shit, pandemic or not, ya girl always lived in leggings Monday through Friday, because working with kids, you need to be as comfortable as possible. But it was a huge eye opener when I started to wear clothes outside of my work outfits. I felt like the Pikachu meme where he’s all surprised with his mouth open, even though I knew this was going to happen. My clothes didn’t fit the way they used to.

At first, I didn’t even really care that I was gaining weight. I was like… whatever it is what it is, we’ve been in this pandemic for a long time. It’s what I expected, and I had mentally prepared myself to slowly transition out of the lockdown. I anticipated that my body was probably not going to look or feel the same prior to the pandemic. I had to remember to be kind to myself. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t alone, a lot of people are going through the same transitions as I am. We are all just trying to adjust back to normal given everything 2020 has put us through. I have come to a point in my life where I know that my outward appearance is the least of my problems, that I am worthy and enough at any size, and that negative self-talk will get me nowhere. I know all of this. I’m completely aware. I try to practice this and feel confident and reassured with whatever reflection I see in the mirror. However, I am human, and I still have my feelings of insecurity. I’m not confident and self-assured all the time, and that’s okay.

In the past, I would’ve been deep in my self loathing ways by now – hating my body, restricting myself and then binging at the end of it all, and talking negatively to myself. But I know where that path would lead me – down a deeper hole. I’ve learned time and time again that making myself feel like shit will accomplish nothing. It will just have me feeling bad about myself and I won’t have the motivation to do better because I’m too busy sulking in my misery. There is literally nothing to gain from negative self-talk, but it’s such a common habit. Especially when you are feeling down, insecure, and frustrated with yourself, it’s hard to stop that voice in your head that is tearing you to shreds and dragging you through the mud. But I knew from experience that if I went down the self-loathing route, it would result in me being really hard on myself, which would push me back into the same cycle I tried so hard to unlearn.

Now, my off days / episodes look a little different. I’m not ashamed that I gained weight, I don’t totally hate what I see in the mirror, and I don’t let people’s commentary or opinions affect me. However, my views on gaining weight has changed over time now that I’m getting older. It’s no longer about how I look, I’m more so concerned about my overall health, given that my late 20’s are just over the horizon, and it’s something I should be keeping an eye on. I was aware of how I was using food to cope, but feeling not the best in my old clothes, and not feeling confident with what I saw in the mirror, brought to light my relationship with food. I was starting to see that during the pandemic, I would eat until I was stuffed to “treat myself,” but really, I’m just binge eating for pleasure and because I’m stressed.

I acknowledge my binging habits that have heightened during COVID, but I refuse to call them “bad habits.” Speaking only for myself, labeling them as “bad” just makes me feel guilty and ashamed about how I’ve handled a really tough year, and that’s not my intent. I want to remain kind to myself, but not be totally oblivious to what I want to change. In the past, to try to stay healthy and balance out my love of food, I would try to go to the gym and squat heavy. But gyms are closed, and with COVID going around with different variants surfacing, I found myself not going out as much. Basically my only form of exercise was walking to the grocery store and hiking once a week. I had to come to the realization that I would get winded doing simple tasks, and I have gotten too comfortable being lazy and not wanting to do anything. It wasn’t about how I looked on the outside, now it’s about how my current habits are making me feel on the inside. I feel sluggish, unmotivated, and unhealthy. Acknowledging what I want to improve, without bashing myself and putting myself down, has allowed me to make small but conscious changes to try to get in more exercise to make me feel better.

I know that for me right now, being healthier means being more active, getting more exercise in, and trying not to binge eat when I’m stressed out or trying to treat myself. A common misconception is that the body positive community promotes unhealthy habits, promotes obesity, and glorifies health complication that come with being overweight. This is not true. Just because you identify as “body positive” doesn’t mean you are glorifying obesity. Being body positive doesn’t mean that you are against working out, it doesn’t mean that you hate skinny people, or that you ignore your health. Being body positive sure as hell doesn’t mean that you are always feeling good about your body. For me, being body positive is being inclusive to all shapes and sizes, it’s being kind to yourself regardless of what your weight is, it’s knowing that you are worthy of love and respect at any size, it’s knowing that you are so much more than your outward appearance, it’s trying to love yourself and your body at all stages of life. Being body positive is not letting societal body standards dictate how you live your life, it’s choosing to live freely instead of constantly stressing over how you look, it’s not restricting yourself because you are hyper-aware of your body, it’s being self-assured and confident in being an individual in a world that wants you to conform and feel shitty about yourself so they can profit off of those insecurities. For me right now, being body positive is all that, and at the same time it’s being aware that I have to make healthier choices. And these choices should not be to punish or restrict myself. The goal is to always be loving and accepting of the body that I have right now. This is the body that has gotten me through the pandemic, and is continuing to get me through it.

And doing this Body Positive series has helped me appreciate and see what “body positivity” means to others. What my meaning of Body Positivity is is not exactly alike to anyone else’s definition. As highlighted in this series, being body positive is: not caring about what you see in the mirror, not letting what people say get to you, being your own number one fan, feeling confident without makeup, choosing a Vegan lifestyle, getting back into a hobby, making peace with your past, accepting your body changing to bring in another life, and so on. I appreciate how transparent every single person was during this Body Positive series, and for allowing me to share their very intimate self-reflections.

It’s okay to not feel body positive all the time. I hope this series has helped people see that people go through their self-love journey differently. No two stories are alike, but even then, we still manage to connect and resonate with other people’s experiences. We are all human, and nobody is perfect. We will have periods of progress, but also periods of regression. Don’t feel discouraged if you are not where you want to be yet when it comes to how you view yourself and your body. This is a lifelong process, so continue to learn and unlearn, and get used to the fact that sometimes you will teeter totter back and forth from what you’re trying to outgrow.

I hope that sharing my personal struggles with my forever changing body reaches someone who needs to hear that being body positive does not mean you are confident all the time. That myth discourages people because that is something that’s very unrealistic. Our bodies and our views are forever changing. If you attach happiness to correlate with your outward appearance, you will never be content with yourself. Your self-love and self-respect should never be conditional. ” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

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

Tee: On Falling Back In Love With My Body

Story 1 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 Tee’s story, written in her own words:

“Your physical body is, and has always been, your true love” – Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., The Three Questions

“On falling back in love with my body. 

Trigger warning: Sexual assault

When we consider beauty ideals and standards, we have seen the shifts in what is glorified versus what is looked down upon throughout time. For one era, thin is in, and with the switch of time, being more voluptuous has become a trend. We hear it in music, we see it on social media, where so many women have become pro-body work and the BBL has become a new sign of wealth. These beauty ideals clearly target women and femme presenting people more so than anyone, and as we know they can be very harmful to one’s self esteem. What we don’t always talk about is how certain body idealization poses a violent threat to the existence of Black women and women of color. 

On one hand, we know that the glorification of thin bodies has been heavily present in mass media time after time. This Eurocentric ideal of what an attractive body should look like has been pushed on us since.. well since colonization has ever been a thing. You do the math. But on the other hand, there is a different type of “glorification” that happens among those who are not thin. Some call it “Hypersexualization.”

“Hypersexualization, or the sexualization of public space, involves the attribution by the media of a sexual character to a product or behavior that has nothing intrinsically sexual about it.” – Quebec. Ca

It has been a silent weapon used against Black women for centuries. For women who may be heavier set with bigger breasts and butts, they are sexualized. The identity of the tempest, the spectacle, the porn star, the hooker, the woman at anyone’s sexual disposal has been highlighted and forced onto women with this kind of shape. We are often taught to cover our bodies because we are showing more skin than is appropriate, even if we are showing just as much if not less skin than our thinner counter parts. Those around us also perpetuate the harm by commenting on our bodies in a sexual manner. 

I have fallen victim and survivor to this treatment. 

Since a child, I have always been on the thicker side. I was called names like “big booty judy” and made a spectacle at a very young age. I developed breasts fairly quickly, and because of my body developing so quickly, I was made to be mindful of it at all times. Because of my shape, I had to constantly be aware of how others saw me, whether or not they were looking at me with a lustful gaze, be sure not to wear clothing too tight, make sure not to bend over, not to show too much cleavage, always wear a bra, etc. All as early as maybe 8 years old. 

I was taught that if I revealed too much, that I would be giving off the wrong message. When I was dating, I had to be mindful of my partners dads, friends, brothers, cousins, etc. because at any moment that my partner caught one of them looking at my body, it became my fault. I was also raised both by my family and external socialization, to believe that the more of myself that I showed, the more vulnerable I was to experiences with sexual predators.

I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, ranging from the age of 4 years old to my early 20s. 

In none of those moments, was I ever showing too much skin. However, the shame and guilt that my parents were socialized to place upon me and thus, I was in belief of, caused me to keep these experiences to myself. I did not disclose to them any of what I experienced until I was 21 through a poem that I shared at a showcase I was performing at. The poem highlights how fear of being victim shamed and getting in trouble or causing havoc and discord could happen if someone knew. Which is often the silent burden that many survivors of sexual assault carry. Not only within their conscience, but within their bodies. This need to conceal, because the reality of the war on our bodies is too heavy a topic to be open about is an incredibly taxing place to exist in.

The feeling of my body being my fault made it such a burden to live comfortably in it. When I was a child, I was a dancer. Dancing was my first true love. But I stopped wanting to dance after I had experienced my wits end of sexual assault. The experiences I was going through behind closed doors made me hyper-aware of my body to the point where I was constantly seeing the differences between my shape and that of my peers. It felt like a constant beating into my head that my shape was the cause. And as a child, how am I to believe anything different than what trauma that hasn’t been addressed is telling me? I started to lose touch with my body. So much of me became numb because I didn’t want to feel the hurt that I had experienced. I didn’t want to touch myself, I shied away from others touching me at all, unless they were my parents or my partner. I didn’t feel comfortable with pleasing myself because I felt like my body didn’t deserve that type of intimate connection with anything. Not even myself. 

My body started to feel like nothing but a container for trauma.

Because I’ve tried to cope not only with my experience with hypersexualization, but also with my experiences with sexual violence, I resorted to many methods of changing my appearance. In some ways I felt that if I conformed to the expectations of women, that it would provide me more safety. So, I began dressing more “modest” at one point and wearing hijab, a traditional head covering observed in Islam and muslim countries. I also kept my hair cut really short/bald for several years because I thought that it gave me more respect or a distractor from my body being the main subject of people’s attraction. I can’t say that any of this helped me to fully cope, and it brought me to the idea that hypersexualization isn’t something to be coped with, more-so challenged.

My experience with body positivity is a bit different, because its less about the rejection of my image, and more about breaking down the fetishization of my image. FETISHIZATION is NOT positivity. It is detrimental to the well-being of so many femme presenting people. It makes a body problem into an internal emotional and mental problem. To me, being body positive has to do with normalizing the view of a woman’s body to de-fetishize and therefore contribute to ending rape culture.  

My first act of resistance was getting back in touch with my body. Knowing that the best way to feel safe in my body again is to know it. So I began dancing again about a year ago. 

These days, I’m definitely not all the way there yet, but I’m rebuilding a bond of trust between my mind, body and spirit as a unit. So that my body no longer feels like a place to hold trauma, but instead a place to host an abundant spirit and a brilliant mind. I’m dancing more often just because it is something I can do for and with myself to feel my body and know it is mine. It has become a celebration of sorts, to move my body and touch my body when I need it. Because of this, I now go to sleep holding myself like I’m giving myself a hug.

Then there was OnlyFans..

I am comfortably able to say that I am an OnlyFans content producer and by spectrum of definition, a sex worker. This is not my only means of income and it’s not what I do for a living, but it is something that I do. My experience with OnlyFans has made me aware of several things. The greatest being, my own sensuality. I was so disconnected from my body due to trauma, that I never touched myself, never wore lingerie, never knew myself outside of someone else’s touch or validation. But when I began using my OnlyFans, I found my ability to treat the experience of my sensuality like carefully curated art. I was able to show up in a way that I never felt comfortable doing because in my mind, concealing myself was supposed to protect me. Even though concealing myself never actually did. 

I began my OnlyFans account in the midst of the pandemic, because it seemed like an interesting and easy way to accrue income. I liked the fact that I could have full discretion, post what I wanted to and if people wanted to subscribe, they could, while I could also make money from what seemed like them simply just wanting to see what I shared there that the rest of the cyber-world didn’t get to see. During my span on OnlyFans, I’ve had many of my subscribers express to me that although I am sexually attractive, they can’t sexualize me because they see me as a person. Many of them have become far more interested in just knowing how my day is going, hearing my poetry, and engaging with me about my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, they still subscribe to see my content. But I’d like to believe that because I have taken the time to get to know my body again, as my own.. that it shows in my content. 

Of course, when it comes to any kind of sex work, there is a negative connotation that I believe is inherently an attack on women. That being that sex-work is shameful and it is solely a matter of force and trauma response. However, that is simply not true. Sex-work has existed for centuries and is actually one of the oldest trades to exist. The reason for it to be condemned is heavily rooted in colonialism and capitalism because a person’s body is not something you can put a price on and/or tax. Otherwise, that is slavery. Which does happen. But so much of how we base our moral compass, our perspective of women and what is women’s business, has to do with money. So, as I engage with OnlyFans, I feel content with my ability to charge what I want to disclose and what I want. When you allow people autonomy and agency, they are able to do so much to reclaim themselves. 

My body, in many ways, has responded to my agency. It responds to me giving it options through what I eat, how I move it around, who I allow to engage with it, how I embrace it. This is what I love most about it. My body, no matter what it has been through at the hands of others, or even myself, always believes in me enough to keep me living in it. I’m not sure that I gain as much for being confident in my body as I do from the sheer fact that my body is confident in me. I am building a relationship with it that is focused on close intention and attention. My body trusts itself and trust me to notice when something is wrong, and to remedy what the issue is. I am in immense gratitude for the resilience of this vessel. 

I show my body positivity by thanking it for all that it survived through. I thank it for still giving me the ability to feel pleasure even though I denied it of that for so long. I thank it for bearing with me as I numbed and navigated out of touch with it. I thank it for choosing to host my spirit everyday. I thank if for all of its imperfections. I thank if for looking the way it looks, for how it carries weight. I thank it for sticking with me and having patience with me as I learn to love it despite all that has made it feel unworthy of love. Above all, I thank it for always loving me back.” -Tee

Kikay Fit

In 2014 after a nasty break up, Shonalyn found herself depressed with a lot of free time. She started to realize that all of her energy went into this failed relationship, and she had no actual goals or hobbies for herself. She was at rock bottom, and didn’t know how to distract herself and move on from everything she just went through. Shonalyn saw this as an opportunity to finally focus on herself, After years of prioritizing her relationship, she knew this was the time to focus all of her attention on rebuilding her self-esteem and self-love.

So, Shonalyn turned to the gym. Not only did she feel good about herself for being active and being more healthy, but her mental health started to improve as well. What originally started as a distraction quickly turned into a new found passion. Shonalyn started to notice her body getting stronger, losing weight, and feeling pumped. This sense of accomplishment was all new to her. Before finding the gym, she felt as though she didn’t really have anything going for her because all her time and effort went into her past relationship, she didn’t care about anything else. She didn’t set goals for herself, and didn’t feel like she was achieving anything. But at the gym, she found herself accomplishing a lot more than what she originally thought she would gain from going consistently.

“I just proved to myself that I am capable of achieving other things,” Shonalyn said remembering why her fitness accomplishments meant so much to her at the time. “This was the first time I accomplished something myself and for myself.”

Since then, Shonalyn’s lifestyle completely changed. And since 2014, fitness has been her passion. Pursuing the fitness industry has always been at the back of her mind, but she never imagined that one day she would be running her own gym, training her own clients, and starting up Kikay Fit. It took Shonalyn a few years to get to this point. There has been a lot of self-doubt, insecurities, career changes, and set backs, but Kikay Fit would not be where it is today without these events taking place. Through this process, Shonalyn realized that sometimes, it’s you and your own self-doubt that will get in the way of your dreams and success. This is the story of Kikay Fit, and how Shonalyn took her own advice by acting on the phrase, “Fuck it, just do it,” to take the leap of faith and start her small business.

Shonalyn has been taking her fitness goals seriously since she first fell in love with it in 2014. She dreamed of one day pursuing personal training as a part time gig, but didn’t really have a time frame set to make it happen. There were times where Shonalyn posted about her fitness progress or videos of her working out. Some people started reaching out to her to ask for tips and questions on working out, and it would make her feel so good that she could offer her knowledge on the subject to help someone out. In the past, Shonalyn would put herself down and tell herself that she was “dumb” or “not good at a lot of things.” With fitness, she felt confident and “good enough” to give others advice and help them if they needed it. That was a reoccurring theme that Shonalyn would soon find out about herself – that she loved to help people. That was the main reason why she was going to college to be a social worker.

In 2017, Shonalyn graduated from college and went on to pursue her dream of being a social worker. Being a social worker is hard work, she found herself wearing different hats while on the job. Shonalyn loved that she got to help people with her line of work, and she really felt like her job was making a difference is someone else’s life. But it was stressful and emotionally draining. Being a social worker really put a strain on her mental health and overall happiness. It was a combination of the line of work, mixed with a lot of overtime hours, and working overnight shifts, that made Shonalyn feel completely drained.

Shonalyn was determined to pivot and make a career change. Even if it was a baby step, she knew she had to start somewhere. She didn’t have to think too long to know that she wanted to pursue fitness and personal training. After all, it’s been a dream of hers that she’s kept buried at the back of her mind. She always knew that eventually somewhere down the line personal training would be in her cards. Now was the time for it to flourish and become a reality, even if it was just part-time, as she kept her full-time job as a social worker. It made sense to her to combine her two passions together – fitness and helping others. By combining the two, she would still feel fulfilled, since helping people was the main reason why she became a social worker.

“I still wanted to help people,” Shonalyn said. “I’m really passionate about fitness, so it’s like, why not combine them? This way I still get to help others and put in my all, but I can still have that work life balance where my life doesn’t just revolve around work.”

But, she was very hesitant. All her life and to this day, Shonalyn struggles with self-esteem, confidence, and self-doubt. She was afraid that no one would be interested in training with her, that she would embarrass herself, and probably nobody would care what she was doing. She tried her best to ignore the negative self-talk she was so used to. She got the courage to started doing group workouts in 2018. Shonalyn was renting out space at a gym to hold her monthly group workouts, and to outsiders looking in, it was going pretty well. But to Shonalyn, all she could think about was all the negative things that could be said. She was getting positive feedback from those taking her classes, but she kept talking herself out of the praise. She was still worried that maybe her clients weren’t satisfied with the service they were paying for. Shonalyn got in her own head, and in early 2019, she stopped the group classes all together.

2019 was a really glum year for Shonalyn. She ended 2018 thinking that she got her foot into the personal training fitness world, and entered 2019 feeling defeated. She fell into a deep depression and couldn’t figure out how to snap herself out of it. She couldn’t figure out a plan for herself and her self-doubt was piling on. She stopped offering her group training classes, deleted social media, and disconnected from those around her. As a trainer, you have to put yourself out there and “sell” your training to others. That meant being active on social media, and Shonalyn just wasn’t up for it. Posting on social media made Shonalyn very self-conscious, and in her current mindset, she didn’t want to deal with any of it. She had mentally checked out early on in 2019.

Shonalyn stayed doing social work full-time when she stopped doing group work outs. That feeling of being stressed and drained lingered, and it only got more intense as she stayed in the industry. After work, Shonalyn would go home and feel like her energy was on low battery. She would be cranky and moody to those she lived with, and just wanted to go home, rest, and mentally prepare herself for the next day at work. She started to notice that she became very antisocial – not wanting to hangout on weekdays because she had work the next day, but still not wanting to hangout on weekends because those were the only days she had to herself. Even on the weekends Shonalyn could never fully relax. She would just stress herself on Sundays, thinking about the work week ahead. Shonalyn was conflicted because she loved that she was helping people, but didn’t like that it was at her mental health’s expense. She needed a change, dreading work and the work week wasn’t how she wanted to live her life anymore, so she put her mental health first. Towards the end of the year, November 2019, Shonalyn decided to make the transition once again to do personal training part-time.

Shonalyn picked up 2 personal training jobs while still keeping her two social worker jobs! For a couple months she juggled four jobs to make sure she could transition to the fitness industry smoothly. And when February 2020 came around, she finally took the leap of faith and left social work completely. Shonalyn was finally committed to only personal training, and she couldn’t have been more excited and anxious for the change. But two weeks after quitting both of her social work jobs, COVID hit. She had quit to start putting in more time and effort at the gyms she was employed at, and two weeks later, the gyms were closed. She couldn’t believe it. Instead of collecting unemployment, Shonalyn decided to go back to being a social worker until Shelter in Place was over.

It took a couple of months, but gyms finally re-opened July 2020. Shonalyn left social work once again, hoping that it would be final this time around. She went back to being a trainer and doing group sessions through the two gyms she worked at. Since her time was 100% focused on her fitness career, Shonalyn finally decided to take a huge risk September 2020 to leave her two training jobs to branch out and get her own clients. She started offering group workouts again at the gym she previously rented out when she first started in 2018. To get word around that she was doing personal training again, Shonalyn hired a videographer and hosted a “launch party group workout” that would document Kikay Fit‘s debut on October 14, 2020.

The original plan was to do a couple of group workout sessions a couple times a week indoors at the gym. But COVID had other plans for what direction Kikay Fit would go. With COVID cases rising and as the holidays loomed around the corner, many of Shonalyn’s potential clients were not interested in group workouts. To Shonalyn’s surprise, her potential clients all preferred 1 on 1 training. In fact, this was a popular opinion across the board, for many different reasons. For one, it was hard to get a consistent group to all sync up their time to attend group classes regularly because of personal schedules. Two, safety reasons. COVID was only getting worse, and her clients didn’t feel comfortable training with other people. A lot her clients were hesitant to work out at the gym, and didn’t want to be exposed to equipment that multiple people were using. For these reasons, Shonalyn catered to her clients’ needs and concerns and started investing in her own equipment, and driving out to their personal homes for 1 on 1 training.

1 on 1 training was not the direction Kikay Fit was supposed to go. Shonalyn had doubts about offering 1 on 1 sessions because she feared that no one would be interested since it is more costly. When the results were overwhelmingly leaning towards 1 on 1 training, Shonalyn listened to her feedback. Even though it was not her original plan to offer personal sessions, COVID made it that she had no choice. She was so used to juggling multiple jobs at a time, and having a safety net incase one job fell through. This time around, she was only pursuing fitness, and it was her main source of income. Shonalyn admits that without COVID, she wouldn’t have been forced to leave her comfort zone. She had self-doubt about 1 on 1 training, but with the pandemic, it was her only option, and she had no choice but to pivot and offer 1 on 1 training.

“I gave myself a pep talk like, ‘OK, all this talk all these years, but now you gotta be about it,’ ” She said remembering how she accepted the challenge of offering personal sessions.

Her 1 on 1 sessions were going well, and she was surprised how many clients she had. It has been a little over two months since launching Kikay Fit, and Shonalyn really prepared herself to only have 1 or 2 clients for the first 6 months to a year. Her first month in business she had about 15 clients, which exceeded all of her expectations for starting out with 0 clientele. She is aware that clients will always fluctuate, but she is grateful for all the support and positive feedback she has already received in such a short amount of time. Because most of these clients prefer 1 on 1 and not to use the rented gym space, Shonalyn found herself making a lot of trips back and forth from client to client throughout the day. This involved packing and unpacking equipment, driving from house to house, and factoring in the time it takes to drive from destination to destination. It was a lot of sacrifice, but it led to Shonalyn’s proudest accomplishment of 2021.

Since she was commuting so much throughout the day, and gyms were closing down once again, Shonalyn got the idea to make a garage gym where she can train her clients. Shonalyn knew that she would have to invest a lot of time and money in building her garage gym, but she knew that in the long run it would benefit Kikay Fit. More people were reaching out for training, but didn’t have the proper space to do so at their own home. Others wanted to join, but she couldn’t squeeze that many people into her schedule because a lot of her time was on the road driving to her next client. By eliminating the commute and unloading / re-loading of equipment, Shonalyn was confident that she could take on more clients. She locked in the new clients to start the week of January 4th, which really pushed her to have a strict deadline to build the gym. But not only did she finish the gym in time, she finished it early, which is way easier said than done. The garage was previously being used as storage, and that in itself was a long tiring process to clean out, but by the end of it, she felt so accomplished and ready to start putting her gym together.

“Although I was ok doing it, I knew it wasn’t sustainable in the long run,” She said, explaining why driving from client to client wasn’t realistic. “So for about a month and a half, I invested a lot of money and time in building a garage gym! All the equipment was back ordered, and double/triple the price but I knew this was an investment and I had to do it for the business.”

Completing the garage gym in time for the new year already made 2021 look so much brighter. And the gym isn’t her only goal for the year. Of course Shonalyn wants to continue to take on more clients, get word around of her small business, and be available to others – but she also knows that this can only be done through marketing and posting consistent content. This is something that Shonalyn has struggled with, because it opens Pandora’s box of all the insecurities she has tried to silence over the years. She is well aware that majority of her posts are of others working out, since this is intentional. She gets very self-conscious to post videos of herself working out, but knows that she needs to step it up and show her clients and future clients that she is “about it.”

She knows that being more confident to post on social media is way easier said than done. After all, that is one of the main reasons why it took Shonalyn so long to pursue the fitness industry. She has always been so in her head about what others might think about her fitness posts, that it held her back from doing what she wanted to do with her career. Shonalyn was afraid that people would talk about her behind her back and send her social media posts in their group chats to gossip, she was afraid that her content would annoy people that follow her, and over analyzed every aspect of all the negative possibilities. Back in the day when she would post on her stories or posts, she would constantly check her phone every 2 minutes or so to see who “seen” the post and who “liked” it. It was too much. When she finally followed through with Kikay Fit, she knew that she had to adopt the “fuck it,” mentality, or she would never take the risks she needed to take to expand her business. At the end of the day, she knows that haters aren’t going to pay her bills, so she might as well put her and her business out there.

Shonalyn knows that social media can be a very judgmental place, and it can be very discouraging when you’re comparing yourself to someone else. So her advice to those that want to start working out but are too embarrassed or discouraged is to try not to compare yourself to others. She stresses that the only person you should be worried about is yourself and your own progress. It may seem overwhelming at first, but Shonalyn wants people to remember that everyone has a day 0. Shonalyn even acknowledges that people at the gym can be very judgmental or some may feel insecure and feel like they’re being judged at the gym. She urges people that want to try to workout consistently to give it a try and not let their self-doubt get in the way of taking the next step because progress is an ongoing process.

And she knows from experience that “progress is an ongoing process” when it comes to mental health and body image as well. All her life, Shonalyn thought being a certain weight and looking a certain way would make her happy. In 2017, she trained and competed in a bikini competition. At her smallest, she was 102 pounds, had abs, had the body she thought she could never have, and placed 3rd in the bikini competition. Shonalyn should’ve been happy since she thought happiness would come with losing weight, but her mental health wasn’t there. She still didn’t feel confident in her body even after winning a medal. Being insecure and lacking confidence is something that she is no stranger to. Shonalyn had to remind herself that she is more than just her body. And that’s what she wants her clients to know as well – that there are so many other aspects of them that is important. If you’re not happy with the way you look or how your body is, celebrate something else about you that you do like.

“Your physique isn’t everything,” Shonalyn said, hoping this reaches someone that is struggling with body image as well. Even as a personal trainer, she’s still conflicted from time to time on her own body image. “It’s hard for me to give advice to someone when I’m still dealing with it.”

That’s why it is so rewarding to Shonalyn when a client starts to feel confident in themselves. She loves that she is making an impact in other people’s lives by training them. What Shonalyn stresses is the importance of mental health. And that’s when she feels the most fulfilled – when her clients are thriving and radiating self-confidence. A lot of her clients were once in her shoes – insecure to step foot in a gym fearing that they would be judged by others because of their self-doubt. She loves when her clients start to notice their own progress like getting stronger, losing weight, or just doing workouts that they would’ve never done before. Shonalyn really tries to switch it up with her clients by giving them a variety of workouts, but also listening to their wants. For her, her clients aren’t just another number. She always ends up building friendships with those who train with her, I guess that’s the social worker in her!

Growing up, Shonalyn’s Lolo-dad (grandpa) always referred to her as “Kikay.” She never knew why, until one day she searched it up and learned it was a slang word in Tagalog for girl / girly. She loves that she can remember and honor her Lolo-dad by naming her business after the nickname he gave her. Shonalyn likes to think that it’s the perfect name, since her goal is to empower women and those around her. She laughs because the meaning of the business’ name was a bit random, but proved to have a deeper meaning the more she thought about it.

Shonalyn went through so much to get Kikay Fit to where it is today. She had a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of self-doubt. At times, her number one enemy and hater was herself. She looks back and realizes how much time she wasted doubting herself. When she finally let go of her self-doubts, she started to see her life going in the right direction. Sometimes, the only person stopping you from achieving greatness is yourself. Once you let go of all the negative self-talk, doubts, and insecurities, you will find yourself taking risks, not caring what others will think. You can sit there and talk yourself out of an idea and never know, or you can test the waters and see where your ideas will take you.

“My confidence still fluctuates until now,” Shonalyn said. “But I went from having 0 confidence to start personal training, to now having my own garage gym.”

Imposter Syndrome

“…it’s only natural I explain my plateau, and also what defines my name…” -Nas / J.Cole

These last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling stagnant, uninspired, and I’ve had hardcore writer’s block. I’ve thought about skipping out on blog posts some Mondays and falling off the wagon for a week or 2. But I knew that would only make me feel worse, so I pushed on.

I’m just over 3 months into consistently writing every week, and I’m high key disappointed in myself that I’m running out of gas this quickly. And honestly, running out of things to write about haha. I know that just means I need to reignite my curiosity on topics and really sit down and think on what to write about.

This is just another wave of the post-grad depression blues. Especially since this December will mark my 1 year anniversary of graduating, I’m almost positive that’s why I’m feeling the way I am. Damn. Let me repeat that. One year. And it sucks because the times I feel off like this I think, “One year post-grad, and what do you have to show for it?” And like I said in the past, this was supposed to be my 1 year “break/chillin'” year… the irony. And I annoy myself because I purposely planned on taking off 1 year to just focus on my blog and passion projects, which I have been doing. So why do I feel like this?

I’m projecting “I’m a writer, I’m a writer,” on all my platforms, but sometimes I think, “But are you? You haven’t been published since SFSU’s Xpress Magazine…” and I hate when I doubt myself like that because it puts me in a mood where I overlook everything I’ve already accomplished, and doubt my decisions I’ve made up until this point.

I’m dealing with Imposter Syndrome so bad right now. What is Imposter Syndrome? Gill Corkindale explains:

Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters‘ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence

While Karen Schneider describes Imposter Syndrome as:

A lack of self-confidence, anxiety, doubts about your thoughts, abilities, achievements and accomplishments, negative self-talk, feelings of inadequacy, dwelling on past mistakes and not feeling good enough these are all signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome. And these thoughts and feelings plague all people, successful people, men and women of all ages, races, and orientations.

I felt this way when I was preparing for my speech at the Women Gender Studies Conference in Fresno this past April. I was presenting my paper on The Body Positive Community as the new wave of modern day feminism, and I wrote about 11-12 pages on it. But when practicing, I felt like I was going to draw blanks. This is a topic I’ve been so passionate about for a couple of years. I did my research, I had articles to back up my points, and I still felt like, “Ok, but who are you to be presenting this? Are you really that educated on the topic? Or are you just going to go up there and sound stupid like you don’t know what you’re talking about?”

I vented these frustrations to my community college journalism professor, Nancy. The same visit where she told me, “you’re always ahead of one person and always behind someone else,” when it comes to success. I was telling her about the Women Gender Studies Conference and how nervous I was. I even told her how I was lowkey thinking about not going, but the only thing stopping me was the fact that I booked the AirBnb already. She looked at me and said, “You have Imposter Syndrome.”

She explained to me that Imposter Syndrome is normal and that she herself has been in my shoes. She was delivering a speech infront of other professors and colleagues and felt the same way I did. She was questioning herself and her successes, but still pushed on.

And that’s the position I’m in right now. I feel like an imposter, lowkey. I’m a writer. But I haven’t been published in a while, and I’m attaching my credibility to the number of times I’ve been published. And it sucks. And the only person that puts me in this mood is the same person that can get me out of this mood. And that person is me. I’m doing it to myself. And that’s what’s hella annoying.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a lazy motivated person. If that’s even possible…. but clearly it is, because here I am in the flesh. Let me break it down. I have dreams and aspirations, I want to inspire and spread truth to my readers. I know the steps I need to take to achieve my dreams, and I always end up taking those steps, however, it’s always at procrastinated rate. I’m lazy as hell, but I deliver when its crunch time. Its so bizarre. In school, some professors would praise me for my work, little did they know I started it at midnight. I never missed a deadline, but waited until last minute to get it together, and I always got by with pretty good grades. And that’s how I earned my degree. I guess I do my best work under pressure and borderline anxiety attack and mental breakdown. I’m stressed and anxious now, not knowing what steps to take towards my writing career, but at the same time, what do I expect? This is all I’ve ever known. The stress of “Will I make it or not?” The scary part is, this isn’t for a grade, this isn’t for a paper or project that won’t matter anymore once I turn it in. This time it’s my future, my career.

I get into these moods where, for a period of time, I will be so motivated and I take initiative. I grab life by the balls and get shit done. And then, out of nowhere I’ll feel like how I feel now, burnt out, unmotivated, and I want to fall off for a minute. When I’m feeling really low is when I somehow shoot back up and repeat the process of having immaculate motivation and nothing can stop me, until I run out of gas again. I’m still trying to find the balance of having a continuous motivation and drive, without burning myself out. I want to be at a constant level of productivity, not seesawing back and forth from motivated and inspired, to feeling unfulfilled and down in the dumps.

I was on Instagram, and a friend I follow posted on her story a quote. It was something along the lines of, “People speak about their problems and battles only in the past tense,” and the quote goes on to say people only share their struggles when they already are passed it and have a solution. And that stuck with me. And it’s true. I talk a lot about my past stories, and what lessons I realized they taught me. And nothing is wrong with me reflecting on past events and stories because it does take time to reflect and grow from things. But also, I wanted to share what I’m currently going through, in the moment.

I think that’s why I was feeling a little unmotivated to write – because I was covering topics I was interested in, but I wasn’t addressing how I was feeling in the moment. I will say that writing this blog post was waaaaay easier to write. I guess I need to vent and be real with myself. Put it down in writing how I feel. Right now. Not when I’m already over it and decide to share.

Right now, in this moment, I’m confused, I caught another wave of the post-grad blues, and I’m doubting myself and my abilities. I’m feeling like a fraud because I haven’t been published in a while. I’m feeling some type of way because I’ve almost been out of school for a whole year. It’s so hard to rediscover yourself as someone other than a student. I’m still exploring the non-student-Marinelle. And it’s a confusing time and I want to cry, but at the same time I wouldn’t know what I’m crying for. Just feeling lost, confused, and unsuccessful?

Ever since I’ve started writing consistently, a lot of people have reached out to me saying how proud they are of me, how they’re inspired, and how they look forward to my writing. Thank you, thank you 💘 I appreciate every single person – friend or stranger- that has ever reached out to me with kind words. It really means everything. If you read my stuff and get inspired, I’m so glad and happy my work is touching someone in a positive way. And I’m hoping by sharing my struggles in the moment, it’ll help someone who is feeling the same. Because I don’t have a solution yet. And if I want to inspire others and tell real stories, I need to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

And I will say that writing this all out has been therapeutic haha. I don’t know who I’m writing this post for – y’all or me 🤣. But thanks for reading, just riding yet another post-grad wave. 🏄🏻‍♀️

…& If It Doesn’t, It Doesn’t.

I didn’t think to make this the blog post for this week, but it so happened to fit in perfectly with what I just wrote about the week before. Its almost a continuation of last week’s post. This is the other side of the coin.

I had dinner with some of my old Journalism gals from SFSU, as our last supper with Roxy. She’s one of the first friends I met at SFSU, and after 5 years in the Bay, she’s moving back home to SoCal. 💔 So we brought her to San Tung’s. 5 years in San Francisco and she never tried it. Disgraceful. The dry fried chicken, kissed by the Gods one by one and sent down to Earth for mankind. But Rox is a pescatarian… so the dry fried shrimp would have to suffice. San Tung was on her bucket list, so we had to make it happen her last couple of days in SF.

At the end of the meal we were so full, like can’t breathe, I should go lay down type of full. But you know, no meal or hangout is complete without boba 👀. So we ventured out into the cold San Francisco night. And when I mean cold, I mean Roxy is literally trying to use my body to shield her/warm her up. We GPS our next destination, boba. Of course, pick the closest one at this point. The short walk resulted in cold nipples jokes and talks of bloody feet if said cold nipples were to fall off – everyone piggy backing off everyone else’s joke 🤣

At the boba spot, Nicki dips for a quick second to find a bathroom to pee, and me, Bridget, and Roxy are left at the little windowsill inside the shop. We start talking about her move, and how her parents were driving up to come swoop her and all her belongings on the weekend. It was Thursday, and her parents were coming Saturday morning.

“Are you almost done packing?” I asked.

“Not even halfway. Maybe like 35%. I got too much shit.”

She went on to talk about how much stuff she accumulated throughout her 5 years here, and how she was lagging to pack it all away. Then she said something that almost every girl could relate to.

“And what makes me sad is I have clothes that don’t fit anymore, but I still won’t get rid of them so I’m packing it and it’s just taking up space.”

“Roxy, I’m writing about this for next week’s blog post.”

That. Right. There. I can’t count how many articles of clothing I’ve kept in my closet in hopes to “fit them again,” for “motivation,” or for the simple fact that it made me think of the times I was “smaller.” To look back and think, “I was once this size,” and reminisce, as I gently fold it and tuck it back in my closet to find again in the distant future to make myself feel like shit all over again 😊.

Why do we do that?! Why is getting rid of clothes that don’t fit anymore such a big deal? Or more specifically, why is getting rid of clothes that are too small* such a big deal? Because let’s be real, if someone lost weight and their clothes were too big, it would be almost an accomplishment to toss out those big ‘ol old clothes. But if they are clothes that are now too small, why is it that just the sight of them pull at the heart strings?

I mean, obviously I know the answer. Getting bigger is seen as a negative. You’re supposed to stay at your smallest, and never unlock a size higher. And if you do, you must forever be haunted by ghost of clothes past.

All jokes aside, this way of thinking is so detrimental to someone’s well-being. I’m all for someone using their old clothes as healthy motivation to be healthier, but it is rarely that. The “motivation” usually results in self-loathing and negative thoughts about one’s self. There’s a very thin line between healthy motivation and unhealthy obsessions.

I wish I could be that bitch that uses my small clothes as healthy motivation to get back in shape. However, I am not that bitch. I will seriously cry about it internally and let it bother me, giving me a false sense of motivation. In the past I would do crash diets and working out consistently, all for the sake of trying to wiggle this body into whatever the hell clearly didn’t fit me anymore. And since it would be sudden crash diets and forcing myself to workout or I’d beat myself up over it, it clearly didn’t last long. Is just give up. Still keeping the clothes that don’t fit anymore in my closest still, of course. And it’s all because this psuedo motivation is not done in the name of self-love, but self-hate. This is what I mean when I say there’s a very thin line between healthy motivation and unhealthy obsessions.

I once had a friend that was obsessed with diet culture. They weren’t trippin off the clothes that didn’t fit anymore, they were trippin off the clothes they bought for their goal body. Also known as, they bought clothes that were about 2-3 sizes too small – the size they wanted to be. They used the clothes as motivation to lose more weight, but the sadness and longing in their eyes everytime they pulled out the drawer full of “goal weight clothes” killed me. Like they believed their life would begin when they were smaller.

And that’s basically what we’re doing when we fixate ourselves over clothes that are too small. If it ain’t healthy motivation to get ya ass back in the gym because you want to change your lifestyle, than it ain’t helpin you at all. Stop thinking your life starts when you’re a smaller size, when you “get back to your college body” (whatever the fuck that means, can’t relate 🤷🏻‍♀️), or when you fit into those jeans you bought in a smaller size. Stop fuckin’ torturing yourself. What good does it do?

Last week’s post I told y’all fuck it, if it fits, it fits! Who cares what the size is on the tag! And this week I’m telling you : …. but if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. Literally who cares?

Don’t beat yourself up over clothes not fitting anymore. Don’t try to shop for your goal body. Don’t obsess over what size you see and wear.

I used to have this mentality (and sometimes still do) where I think, “I really want new clothes…. hold on, nevermind, I’ll just wait a while because if I start working out and I lose weight, I have to buy new clothes all over again.” STOP. THAT. SHIT. If you wait to wear the shit you want to wear, or buy the shit you want to buy all for the sake of body fluctuations, you’re literally not gonna have shit to wear at all.

Why not style the body you have right now the way you want to? Why must you wait until you’re “different.” If you’re waiting to lose weight to dress the way you want to, then you’re just playing yourself honestly. Feel good in what you wear now. Be you now.

So if it fits, it fits. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. A made it a point some time ago to get rid of all the clothes that I don’t wear and are too small. I gave them all to my little sister. Sometimes I see her in my old clothes and I think oh my God I used to fit that! Some time ago it made me sad. But now I’m genuinely in shock that I used to fit them, or tried to fit them. Like wow, I really forced myself in medium Adidas track pants. Literally who tf did I think I was 😭🤣

But I got rid of those clothes because not only was it taking room in my closet for absolutely no good reason, but it just made me feel awful about myself everytime I saw them. So why keep them? Why do that to myself when I know that’s how I’m going to react? I still have some articles of clothing that don’t really fit/don’t really make me feel nice when I wear them, but I still keep them in my closet just incase I need it for something. You never know when your opinion will change! But also my mentality changed, so my outlook on clothes also changed.

I’m no longer hoarding clothes that don’t fit anymore. Getting rid of them unapologetically and nonchalantly. If if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit 🤷🏻‍♀️.

“I’m a Writer”

I think back to an exercise I had to do in my Women and Gender GWAR class my last semester of college. The “GWAR” class is one of the core classes you have to take for your major/ minor that is heavily writing-based. It was maybe the first or second day of class, can’t be exact it seemed so long ago… Anyways, it was one of the very first class meetings. My Professor, Nan, stood in front of the class and said, “Ok, I want you to introduce yourself to the person next to you by saying, ‘Hello, my name is ….. , and I’m a writer.”

What a simple exercise to do. My classmates went about introducing themselves as writers with a smile, probably thinking, “Ok, whatever.” However, I hesitated. Saying “I’m a writer,” hits different and has a completely different meaning when that’s actually what you want to be identified as. But I turned to a classmate and gave my quick, “Hi, I’m Marinelle, and I’m a writer.” I could feel myself getting hot and turning red. I felt embarrassed that I was taking this exercise way too personally, but it really made me reflect on why.

I always get self-conscious about calling myself a “writer” for a lot of reasons. For one, I feel weird calling myself a writer if I’m not getting paid to write. When I tell people I have a blog, I feel a little shy and awkward, knowing that my online presence is nowhere close to where I want it to be. A lot of the time, I’m writing about things I’m passionate about, or experiences and stories that I think can help someone in some kind of way. At the very least, I want people to relate to what I write. From the get I’ve told people that my blog entries and the stories I share would probably never make it on your local TV News station. This ain’t breaking news. These are your everyday life stories.

My Professor went on to say that the point of the exercise was for us to be comfortable with calling ourselves “writers.” She explained that no matter how good or bad we are at writing, no matter how many eyes we have on our work, whether it’s for the public or for ourselves, that at the end of it all, we write, so therefore we are writers. It was a boost for the class to be confident in our writing, since the class was basically a writing class. Nan stressed that we’re all writers at different stages, and we all have more to learn.

Later on in the semester during our 1 on 1 meeting, I brought up how that exercise really hit home for me. I told her that it made me realize that if I can’t even confidently say that I’m a writer out loud, how do I expect others to see me in that light? We went on to talk about my research paper, and all the little goals I had with it. She assured me that I was doing great in the class, and that she was impressed with my writing abilities. She went on to tell me that I’m such a pleasure to talk to 1 on 1, but in class I’m so disconnected and almost not present, in a sense that I don’t want to contribute to the conversation when I know the answer. I laughed because that’s typical me, full of personality when you get me talking, but totally unbothered and minding my business if not. Nan encouraged me to apply for the Women Gender Studies Conference that was going to take place at Fresno State. I took her advice and applied – mostly because it was extra credit if I showed proof of just applying. A few months later, I was selected to speak at the conference about my paper focusing on the Body Positive Movement.

I get so in my head about writing, that it is beyond writer’s block. I have so many ideas and topics that I want to cover. It gets to the point where I go over a possible blog post in my head over and over again – how I would start it off, what topics to cover, what my point would be, what correlations to make, etc, that I exhaust myself. It seems like I write it a thousand times in my head already, that when it gets time to actually writing it out, I’m over it. And that’s partly because I’m high key a perfectionist, but at the same time a scared lazy ass bitch. I want my content to be worth the read, and sometimes I think, “Maybe this idea isn’t as good as you think,” and I talk myself out of writing it. Butttttttttttt, I gotta stop that. I am a writer. If not now, then when? If I’m writing into outer space and nobody actually cares what I say except my best friends and those closest to me, then so be it. Enough of trying to perfect everything. I always say I’m going to be consistent but end up fallin’ off. A lot of changes have been happening in my life and I feel like I should write about them because I know there’s people out there struggling with the same things. So stay tuned for my rants and quarter-life-crisis’s. You know that feeling where you feel like you’re turning to the next chapter in your book of life? Well that’s me. My brain’s in shambles thinking about life decisions.

With that said, I’m Marinelle Cabillo, and I’m a writer.