Jade Dragon – Thank You For 50 Amazing Years

We went out to eat last week at a Chinese restaurant for my mom’s birthday dinner. It reminded me that we haven’t ate at Jade Dragon in a really long time. I mentioned that we should go to Jade Dragon soon for the sake of memories, and even made a mental note of it for when it’s my turn to treat the family out to dinner. It was on my mental list of places I should order from on Sundays.

For anyone that has grew up in Daly City, the restaurant, Jade Dragon, rings a thousand bells. For me, Jade Dragon has been at the center of my family’s milestones. From 1st birthdays, to baptism receptions, to birthday dinners, to birthday parties, to retirement parties, to debuts, to catering family events, to many eventless weekend dinners, we basically grew up at that restaurant eating their food. To this day, I still have fond memories of my family and I eating at Jade Dragon. Hence why I wanted to go back after a few years of not eating in the dine-in restaurant area or the reserved party rooms. With the pandemic going on its 2 year anniversary, going to a familiar place that housed great memories from your childhood would be a great comfort. I looked forward to taking my family there again.

Last night, my family and I ordered take-out from a Vietnamese spot on Ocean. I have been on my satay pho obsession for a couple months now, and it was time to have my sisters join in on the craze. Especially since the Bay Area was freezing cold this last week, a nice warm bowl of pho was definitely appreciated. We stood around the kitchen table, putting together our bowls of pho. Anyone who has ever taken pho to-go knows the struggle of assembling your meal to your liking. My eyes grew wide as I watched my little sister take her first bite.

She agreed. The satay pho was really that good. My sisters and I sat in the living room, devouring our steaming bowls of that peanut broth goodness. My dad joined us to watch another episode of 90 Day Fiancé: Before the 90 Days, a Sunday night tradition for the last 2 years. And by 7:40 pm, we were stuffed and ready for a food coma. I was so full that I couldn’t even finish the extra noodles I had added to my order. I called it satay quits and went on my phone.

Justine messaged on our group chat a screenshot of one of her Facebook friend’s posts. The pictures on the post were very familiar to me. It was Peggy standing in front of her restaurant, Jade Dragon. I remembered her familiar face in an instant. Up until reading that Facebook post, it dawned on me that I never knew her name. However, her face was such a familiar and inviting face from my childhood. I read the caption above the pictures and gasped.

“Jade Dragon is closing?!?!” I blurted out.

Gasps filled the room, “Whaaaaaaat!?”

Quickly I remembered that I wanted to take the family there to eat. Now, my chance was almost gone. The post said that they were closing their doors for good tomorrow (Monday). I had no idea if that meant that their last day was that night, Sunday, or their last day in service was the next day, Monday. I frantically tried to find their website online, seeing if the rumor was true. I couldn’t find a website or any social media pages for the restaurant. Google said that they were closing at 8 PM, which was in 8 minutes. As full as I was, I knew it would be foolish not to at least attempt to place an order for the last time. So, I called in, hoping that 8 minutes until closing wouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

“Jade Dragon.”

“Hi, are you guys closing at 8?”

“Yes, you can place your order now and it will be ready in 15 minutes.”

“Uh, will you guys be open tomorrow?” I said, already dreading the answer.

“No, we are closing. Last day is today.”

At that point, I knew it was about 5 minutes until they closed. So I did what anyone else would do… I placed an order for fried chicken. I got off the phone and my dad was flabbergasted. He couldn’t believe I ordered more food after we gorged ourselves 5 minutes prior. But I had to. There were too many memories made at Jade Dragon not to! And I knew I would regret not getting 1 last opportunity to bite into the tastiest, crispiest, best chicken skin of all time, Jade Dragon chicken.

Had this been for any other take-out, my dad would be annoyed as hell. But Jade Dragon also held a special place in his heart too, and he was equally as shocked that they were closing. So my dad, little sister, and I headed for the car to pick up our last order from the restaurant we so very loved. I didn’t have much expectations, because I knew that seeing Peggy there would be a very slim chance. But I hoped anyways.

We parked the car in front of Jade Dragon. We have been to this parking lot many times before. It was dark outside, the “open” sign was no longer on, and something about seeing the restaurant’s sign in the dark made me sad. We walked in, and there were still people at the bar section to the left. The huge Buddha statue that I rubbed every time I left the restaurant growing up sat in it’s same position in front of the door. We turned to the right towards the dinning area. Everything looked exactly the same. It smelled exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. And then from behind the restaurant, slowly walking and emerging from behind the paneled divider, came Peggy.

Seeing Peggy’s smiling face took me back 2 decades ago. Suddenly, I was 7 years old, walking into Jade Dragon with my family. The smell in the restaurant was the same, the furniture was the same, the decorations untouched, the tables were set up exactly as it was 20 years prior. I had flashbacks of my older sister and I pouring tea into our teacups, only so we could add way too much sugar. We wouldn’t stir the sugar into the tea, we would let it sink to the bottom so the last couple sips were sugary, grainy, and delicious. I remembered picking out the peas in my fried rice and lining them up on the side of my plate, pretending they were audience members.

I remembered the circle table at the very back of the restaurant where we had my dad’s surprise 40th birthday dinner with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I remembered all the events that took place in that restaurant – my uncle’s retirement party, my goddaughter’s birthday party, my 1st birthday that I don’t remember but have pictures from… the list went on. I remember running to the Buddha statue to rub his belly. “Rub for good luck,” my mom would tell me. And oh how I believed it. And I remembered Peggy’s smiling face greeting us at the back of the restaurant, “Oh they’re so big now!” she would tell my parents.

And there she was, in the same part of the restaurant, greeting us into Jade Dragon for the last time. She looked exactly the same. Her friendly face is one I could pick out from a crowd. It was such a surprise because I don’t think any of us expected to actually see a familiar face. I expected to not see anyone I recognize, pick up our chicken, and say silent goodbyes in our head. But there she was. The woman whose face I’ve associated with Jade Dragon and great family memories. The most welcoming face to be greeted with.

“Sorry, we’re closed. The cooks are going home,” she said kindly with a sympathetic smile. We had our masks on, but we let her know that we had placed an order already. “Oh, the fried chicken!” she said happily.

We talked a bit while we waited for our fried chicken order. We let her know that even though she may not remember us, that we definitely remembered her and cherished the family memories we made at Jade Dragon. Peggy said that she somewhat remembered our faces, but I really didn’t expect her to. She knew me since I was like 4, I doubt she could recognize 27 year old me. However, she was still very kind about it and insisted that she remembers people’s faces.

We reminded her that we were regulars way back when. Peggy let us know that it was just finally time for her to retire. “50 years in February,” she said tenderly. I couldn’t believe it – Jade Dragon was closing its doors after 50 years. She updated us on her husband’s health and the passing of her sister-in-law 4 years prior, another familiar face at Jade Dragon. She told us that they sold the restaurant space to Kukje, and they’d be remodeling it soon. Standing there talking with Peggy, I couldn’t believe how much time had passed. Instead of her being in awe at how much my sisters and I have grown, we were now in the middle of her restaurant on it’s last day – probably their last order. Yes, we were the assholes that ordered 5 minutes till closing… but I’m glad we did.

Peggy went to the back to check on our order, and we walked around the restaurant. Everything looked the same. In my memories, I recall it being so much bigger. It was sad looking around knowing that this restaurant wouldn’t be around anymore. It was a very nostalgic moment, especially since a couple weeks ago we learned that Tanforan Mall would be permanently closing as well. It feels like so many major things from my childhood are quickly fading. So many places that housed so many great memories are soon to be a thing of the past. It hit me.

Peggy came out with our chicken, and we headed to the cash register. I was so glad that we got to see her that night, and that we got to say our thank you’s and give her our best wishes. I handed her a generous tip, which she refused to take. We encouraged her to take it, and let her know that we would miss the restaurant.

“I need to give you a souvenir then. Something to remember by.” She headed to the back of the restaurant. She gifted us 2 embroidered animals that were framed separately – a horse and a cat. We were honored to take a piece of Jade Dragon with us.

After that, I asked if we could have a picture with all of us and the Buddha. Peggy was thrilled to do so. We took our masks off and smiled for the camera. The Buddha that we rubbed every time we came into Jade Dragon, and every time we walked out. When she saw my dad with his mask down she said, “I remember your face now! Now that you don’t have a mask, yes, I remember your dad.”

So we said our goodbyes, our thank yous, and our well wishes for her retirement. I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. But as I ate the leftover Jade Dragon chicken today for dinner, I remembered all the great memories of family, food, and great service.

Jade Dragon gave Daly City 50 amazing years. I’m grateful that my family and I got to talk to Peggy before they finally closed their doors. This one definitely hurt because Jade Dragon was a big part of the community. However, I will always remember the many happy memories I have of Jade Dragon over the years. And that’s the definition of a successful business – when people keep coming back because your food is great, but also because of the happy memories and great hospitality.

Today, Monday, February 28, 2022 Jade Dragon closed their doors. Thank you, Jade Dragon, for 50 great years!

Sundays at Tatay’s House

This is story 4 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

Ate and I teaching Tatay how to do a Boomerang

If my dad doesn’t see signs of my sisters and I motioning to get up by 5 PM on a Sunday evening, he starts up again. “LETS GO! GET READY NOW!” he says throughout the house. Whether someone is sleeping on the couch, going pee in the bathroom, or literally already about to head downstairs to get ready, they get the same reminder. It’s Sunday, so it’s time to go to dinner at Tatay’s house. We partially ignore my dad’s irritated orders because we know we’re still going to be the first ones to arrive anyways. Depending on my mom’s mood, she’s either making food to bring to Tatay’s, or we buy take out. It’s the last scramble to get your belongings, phone charger, water bottle, computer, any work that you’re “going to work on” while at Tatay’s, before we hear my dad again. “LETS GOOOO!!!” Depending on his mood there might be a honk or two while he’s in the car.

We make our way to Tatay’s house and make the same walk that we always do from the apartment parking lot to his front door. We doorbell, but end up opening the door anyways. We greet Tita and bless her, quickly trying to claim a spot on the couch. The smell of food is already in the air. One thing about Tatay’s house is that there’s never a time where you leave and don’t smell like food. Little by little everyone starts showing up with food in hand, going straight to the kitchen. Tatay makes his grand appearance down the stairs, his cane not even touching the ground. We all line up to bless Tatay and greet him. We all wait until everyone has arrived before we pray and start to eat.

At Tatay’s service, something that all my cousins brought up during their speech was the language barrier we all faced when trying to communicate with Tatay. Every Sunday that we were there for dinner, my sisters and I would struggle to try to attempt to say something in Tagalog. Sometimes it was successful and we could carry out a simple conversation, but other times he would look at us like “….?” We would burst out laughing in embarrassment that our Tagalog was not understandable. We could understand what he would say to us in Tagalog, but we would need some time to process how to say what we wanted to say from English to Tagalog. But when our Tagalog wasn’t successful, we would tell our dad to translate what we wanted to say. We would use my dad as the human translator to tell Tatay information or ask him something.

Regardless of the language barrier, we all still found ways to communicate with Tatay. It’s crazy because even though we couldn’t communicate smoothly, the bond was still there. Maybe it’s because he lived with my family and I until I was about 7 years old, or the fact that there was just a mutual love between grandfather and grandchildren. Whatever it was, I still felt very close to my Tatay. When we were little he would take bus all around the city and come home with random things for my sisters and I. We showed our love through food, acts of service, and trying to show him things through the TV, our phones, or pictures.

Tatay’s house doesn’t have cable, so we were always trying to look for shows about animals. Animal planet was Tatay’s channel. He has always been so entertained and intrigued by animals. Ever since we were little, it was Tatay’s staple in his personality. Anything that had to do with animals, he loved. For a period of time, we would enter Tatay’s house on Sunday and immediately put it On Demand – a show about animals that he couldn’t get to on his own. He would always ask how we got on that channel, probably so he could try to watch it himself when we left. But the remote control for a 90+ year old is like the smart phone for Boomers. We just let him know that we would put on the channel for him when we came. We would watch animal documentaries while eating food, everyone huddled around the TV. Tatay would be totally fascinated. I don’t know when the switch happened, but over time we moved on to America’s Funniest Home Videos, and it was a plus that there was an animal segment.

When everyone is done with eating dinner, we just chill and hangout. This is usually the time when Tita will take out and offer the ice cream. Not just any ice cream, Mitchell’s Ube and Mango. Whoever takes the offer of getting ice cream always ends up being the server for everyone else. On the sidelines you will find cousins who are typing hard away on their laptop, people doing homework, great grandkids screaming from the top of their lungs running throughout the house, for some reason wrestling always ends up happening in the middle of the livingroom floor, some chisme in the kitchen with the adults, and cousins chopping it up in the livingroom. It’s a small apartment, but we made it a home. All of us crammed in there every other week to just hangout and be together as a family. Tatay would be in his designated chair either watching TV, or just observing the beautiful Sunday chaos going on around him.

And then there’s the pictures. I feel like we bonded with Tatay through taking pictures together and showing him filters. I always wondered what he was thought of them. Imagine being in your mid 90’s, and a little screen is showing that there’s a cat on your head. At times he would laugh and make a surprised entertained noise, and other times his reaction was like what the hell is that?! Seeing his reaction to filters and seeing his face when he saw himself on camera was priceless. I have so many photos of Tatay with a filter on, and they all put a smile on my face because I know he was truly shook with every single one.

One Sunday Tatay took an interest in my phone. I was on it and he asked if it was mine. The curiosity in his eyes and in how he was asking led me to believe that he was interested in playing around with it. I was doing homework at the time, so I put in my password and handed it over to him. I wasn’t paying attention to what he was doing because I was focused on what I was working on. In less than 30 seconds Tatay quickly hands it back to me and says something along the lines of “Here, I’m done now, take it,” in Tagalog. He was a bit distraught and to be honest, a little frantic. I looked at my phone to see that a couple of my apps were open and moved around, my Amazon cart was was open in the process of adding something random to my cart, and so many things were rearranged and done in such a small amount of time that I couldn’t help but laugh.

That’s what I mean when I say that even though there was a language barrier, it didn’t get in the way of Tatay bonding and interacting with us. Especially the relationships he had with his great grandchildren. All the kids knew his house as “Tatay’s House.” To them, Tatay’s house is where you go to play with your cousins, scream and run all night, and get scolded for going on the stairs. Tatay’s house was a place that they looked forward to going to because they knew that all the family would be there. They knew that there would be pizza, puto, and cousins to play with. Tatay was very loving an affectionate to his great granddaughters. They would come up to give him kisses and hugs, sit on his lap, and eagerly greet him when they came in. He would use his cane to play with them, and even though he probably didn’t know who’s kid belonged to who, he was thoroughly amused by their rambunctious ways. I’d always hoped that Tatay would be around long enough to meet my children.

There would be many times where I found myself observing Tatay as he observed the room himself. When the kids were yelling and having a great time, he would smile to himself, not bothered by the high pitched screams of enjoyment. Tatay was always lingering around. He wouldn’t be in the main conversations, but more so chillin on the sidelines hanging out. When we had our first Sunday dinner after over a year of being apart, I saw the spark in Tatay’s eyes again. Seeing everyone together, being in the thick of the chaos to see great grandchildren reuniting after so long, the apartment that was so quiet throughout the entire pandemic finally got brought back to life. I’m glad we gave Tatay a few more Sunday dinners despite the pandemic.

Now, Sundays look a little different. We are continuing to go to “Tatay’s house,” – because it will always be “Tatay’s house” to me – every other Sunday to have family dinner. This time around, we visit the cemetery before heading over. My dad’s “LETS GOOO, GET READY NOW!” announcements are now a little earlier so we have time to swing by the cemetery before it closes. We still make it a point to see Tatay every Sunday. It’s only right that we drop by and say hello, even if it’s only for a quick 2 minutes like what we did throughout the pandemic. If I think about it for too long, I get sad knowing that Tatay’s house will never be the same. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that still thinks he’s going to walk down those 2 flights of stairs, cane in hand, making his grand appearance into the livingroom. As time goes on, I know things will continue to change, people will move away, and things won’t always be the same. But for the time being, while we are still resuming family gatherings, I’d like to think that Tatay’s watching over us. I hope he’s glad that we’re continuing to come together as a family at “Tatay’s house” for Sunday dinner while we all still can.

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

Ayla: My Body Is Allowed To Change

Story 8 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 Ayla’s story, written in her own words:

“Growing up I would constantly compare myself to my older sister, she was shorter and more petite than I was (and still is). She ran cross country, had a thigh gap, and abs in middle school. Next to her I felt tall and ugly, however, I didn’t know how to express this feeling other than becoming painfully shy. It wasn’t until high school that I became more social and looked at my body differently. I never thought of myself as skinny because the standard of thin was ridiculous in the early 2000’s, but two memories have stayed with me and have shaped my body image. The first came from my older sister. She was commenting on how I had a tummy and how I should learn to ‘suck it in’ so it would look flat. She said I should do this ‘all the time.’ The next incident happened in 11th grade while getting ready for a party. I put on a crop top with low-waisted jeans (of course) and asked my ‘friends’ if I looked fat. None of the girls said anything at first then one responded that I was a little fat and had an overhanging tummy. The idea that my friends thought my body was too big (even if now looking back it was the skinniest I’ve ever been) and I actually shouldn’t show my stomach hurt, at this time I began to view myself as the ‘bigger’ friend not only because I was tall, but now because I knew my friends thought of me as larger than they were. At this time I began to develop body dysmorphia, it got worse when I started comparing myself to other women’s bodies more and more.  

It wasn’t until college that I began viewing my body differently and it was at this time that I discovered the body positivity movement. I was first exposed through Instagram with the model, Ashley Graham, and singer/influencer, Lizzo. They were so unapologetically plus size – I felt inspired! It made me feel better to realize that other women were living comfortably in their own skin. I began to buy clothes that didn’t just make my body look a certain way or I’d fit into when I lost more weight. I bought things that felt good and fit my body! Finding the right clothes remains a challenge for me because of my height, I’m 5’11, so I have to purchase all my jeans online in the ‘Tall’ section of stores and often tops that flatter other people don’t fit me at all! Instead of trying to fit my broad shoulders into the dainty blouses that were currently trending in fashion, I began to shop for what flattered my body. If I could give one piece of advice it would be to stop following trends and start shopping for what feels, looks and is comfortable on you! Although Instagram helped me discover the body positive movement, there was a negative side to the app. I found myself scrolling for hours on models like Emily Ratajkowski and comparing myself to impossible standards, on some level it has destroyed how I view myself. 

The ‘perfect’ body being pushed on Instagram is entangled in the ever changing mainstream media portrayal of how women should look. More recently I have realized that the standard of beauty is so unattainable because convincing women that they are ugly is an entire market, selling makeup, surgeries, injections, skincare and more is a billion dollar industry! If we began to accept and radically love ourselves, then many rich and predominantly white men would lose many millions. However, knowing this doesn’t change the fact that I am still struggling, loving, accepting and living with my body to this day.

In order to change my mindset, I began confronting my body dysmorphia and all that came along with it. I began nourishing my body when I was hungry and not waiting hours until I was starving. I stopped forcing myself to feel guilty if I didn’t workout every day, and told myself to stop the self-degradation -something I’m still working on. For over five years now, I have been struggling and working every day to develop a healthy relationship with food. However, I often go days eating very little, then suddenly binge 2,000 or more calories at night and feel awful about it. My unhealthy relationship with food began in college when I left home and had to take full control over my diet. It was difficult for me to eat three meals a day and it was during this time that I developed an eating disorder that lasted me a little over a year.

My freshman year of college, I would skip meals, eat laxatives, and even take pain meds to curb hunger. I am 5’11, and at my worst, I weighed under 120 lbs. I did this because I associated being skinny with being beautiful. People began commenting on my health and were visibly concerned for my well-being. I remember my boyfriend saying he wanted to see me eat a burger and my grandma encouraging me to have some potato chips. However, it took being constantly weak, often blacking out when I stood up, and being cold all the time to end a year of disordered eating. Since then, finding a balanced and healthy relationship with food is something I am still working on, but it has gotten a lot better over the past six years. 

My relationship with food went from counting calories, only eating when I was starving, always talking about my body, food, and dieting, to eating when I am hungry, treating myself to desserts when I want, and not feeling guilty when I have a burger! There were a few things that led me to accepting my body. The first was when I realized that I would be in this body for the rest of my life and loving it would only make me more beautiful, not less. The next step I took to realizing I had an eating disorder and body dysmorphia was to change my focus to what I loved about my body, not what I hated. I began to appreciate my long legs, my nose that is similar to my cousins and reminds me of my family, belly button and belly ring, smile, and teeth! 

Another step I’ve taken in order to heal my eating disorder and body dysmorphia has been to unfollow Instagram accounts that make me feel bad about my body. Before I go any further with this I’d like to say that I am all for anyone and everyone getting cosmetic surgeries and have nothing against it. However, when influencers post on their pages advertising a product, for example waist trainers, flat tummy tea, etc., when they themselves have had work done and didn’t get their body from those products, it is extremely damaging for mental health. Someone who has had liposuction and a BBL should not be telling their audience that they got their body from a supplement! This is why I have unfollowed and cleaned up my Instagram from influences who lie or omit the truth of where their amazing bodies came from, obviously photoshop their pictures, or advertise a lifestyle that is unrealistic and that they themselves don’t even live. By not seeing these images everyday and replacing them with real women bodies I became happier with my own. 

The last thing I did in order to change the perception I had of my body image was to sometimes take down any full-length mirrors I had around the house. I’ve realized that my body is the LEAST interesting thing about me. I am multifaceted, and getting to know other parts of myself is self-love! By removing the reflection of my body, I have been able to explore so many more positive parts of me, instead of spending an hour in front of the mirror analyzing all the things I dislike about myself. I began to use my time journaling, doing yoga, cooking healthy foods, and spending time with close friends. I no longer associate beauty with having a flat stomach and being thin – beauty is how I make others feel, beauty is my uniqueness, and beauty has no real definition. After discovering the body positivity community, I have moved my focus off of my physical appearance. I began to judge my body less, treat it more gently, and really discover what self love is. 

The body positivity movement was founded by black plus size women, they paved the way for a more inclusive fashion industry, better acceptance of mental health, and helped me change my own personal body image. Although I am not black or plus size, the body positivity movement has helped me lessen my body dysmorphia and taught me to unconditionally love my body. Everyone’s journey with their body is different. Some days, I don’t want to look in the mirror or resent how I look from every angle. What the movement has taught me though is that my body is mine for the rest of my life. It will carry me from birth to death and nourishing it with positive thoughts and actions will let me be my best self. 

Something I’d like readers to know is that I am tall, white, and stereotypically pretty. I have benefitted from privilege in one way or another my entire life. However, I didn’t think I was beautiful most of my 24 years, and that is what society wants. They want you to feel ugly so they can sell you makeup, feel fat so they can sell you a diet, and feel undesirable so they can sell you a new outfit. None of those things has helped me love myself. Accepting who I am has come from words of affirmation, conversations with close friends, and feeling confident in comfortable clothing! If you are struggling with body dysmorphia, sometimes the hardest part can be realizing and accepting that there is a problem with how you view your body. However, once you acknowledge that you are worthy and so much more than just your physical appearance there is a whole community ready to welcome you! I’d like to finish with one of my favorite quotes; ‘We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.’ – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.-Ayla

Allysa: To The Girl I Once Was

Story 7 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 Allysa’s story, edited by Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory:

“Dear Allysa,

I know you hate your body now, and you think you need to have a “perfect body” like you see all over social media. You also feel lost and stuck in your body because you just won’t accept it. You think about your body negatively, but that’s okay. You are going to realize that the “perfect body” comes in different shapes and sizes no matter how much you doubt yourself and the body you’re in. You are too focused on social media’s definition of a “perfect body,” and you keep asking yourself, “why can’t my body be like that.” You grew up thinking like that and it made you think that’s the only body type out there. You’re struggling with looking for clothes that fit you or what you’re comfortable in. You can’t get the clothes you want because you are afraid of what people think of you. You have to get oversized clothes to be comfortable because you don’t want people to make fun of your body.

The question is, “what is the definition of true beauty?” You’ll finally realize that “true beauty” comes in ALL shapes and sizes. Always keep that in mind because your body is beautiful just the way it is. 

Your current relationship with food is not the best. You binge eat every 1-2 hours because you are going through anxiety and depression, making you feel stressed out and confused. You think binge eating will help you get through all of the problems you are facing, but it won’t. You’re seeing your body and face changing because you binge eat. It’s to the point where you’re not comfortable taking pictures of yourself because you don’t like how you look. You’re too focused on what your body should be, even though you know it’s not good for you. You’re skipping some meals because you think it will help you lose weight, but it won’t help you mentally or emotionally. Even though food is good, you think you can’t control your eating habits. But the truth is you can control your eating habits if you believe in yourself. 

I know you’re going through countless mental breakdowns where you start to doubt yourself – from your body to your future. Your mental breakdowns have made a huge impact on your eating habits. 2018 will be the most traumatic year of your life because you are going to go through depression and anxiety. You will lose yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. The real reason why you are going through mental breakdowns is because you are still grieving the death of your cousin, who you loved so much. You have a special bond with her & she inspires you to follow your dreams. She is still your light whenever you see her smile or her face. Right now, you can’t accept that she is gone and you feel empty inside because her presence is not with you anymore. But try to remember that she will always be watching over you and you’re doing everything you can to keep her spirit alive.

You just sit and cry when you want to be alone, and think that no one is going to help you. You say, “what am I going to do?” and think no one is going to understand what you’re going through. You keep blaming God for taking your cousin away so soon. But that’s not the case, you know your cousin fought for her life. She was strong & brave after all she had to go through. You’re not comfortable opening up about your mental breakdowns to anyone yet, that’s okay. But keeping your mental breakdowns to yourself is very unhealthy. You will realize that you can’t help yourself unless you have people helping and guiding you through it. 

You’re thinking about who you can talk to about your emotional breakdowns. You start to think of who you can trust that will help you, people that have always been there for you, even at your lowest. You’ll turn to your Godsister, Ezra, & your best friend, Janine, because they’re the only ones who have been there for you since the beginning. But how do you tell them? You need someone to be by your side through all of this. Once you reach out to them, they’ll completely uplift you. They tell you that they believe in you, which motivates you to be the best version of yourself. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where you’d be. After some time, you’ll finally have motivation and words of wisdom to finally realize that you are worth it and enough to be in this world.

2019 is the year that your life changes. That is the year you focus on yourself. You’ll finally accept who you truly are because you will learn that only you know the real you. So don’t put yourself down just because you don’t like how you look right now. You’ll finally find yourself by changing your eating and exercising habits. You start to journal, where you write about your day and all the things you like about yourself. You’ll start to portion out your food and drink more water. You’ll make working out a daily routine. Losing weight will make you proud of your hard work, it will boost up how you see your body, and you’ll gain confidence. The amazing thing is you did everything for yourself. You’ll start to believe that you are enough.

You’ll get back into dancing, and it’ll make you feel more confident. You’ve been dancing since 15 years old and your dream has always been to be a professional dancer. You stopped dancing at 19 years old because you didn’t like how you performed at a birthday event. Giving up dancing was hard for you because you loved it so much. Dance is how you expressed all of your feelings, but you felt like it was not going to take you anywhere in life. But how would you know? It’s okay to doubt yourself sometimes, but what’s not okay is quitting on yourself and what you love doing. If only you knew that right now, in the present day, you are pursing your dreams in becoming a professional dancer, and you’ll soon move to Los Angeles.

I want to apologize for how I treated you. I’m sorry for not believing in you. I’m sorry for the way I thought about our body- being too focused on what our body “should be,” not what it truly is. You are going to be so proud of the Allysa now, because you have come so far.” -Allysa

Sabrina: My Journey To Self-Love

Story 6 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 Sabrina’s story, written in her own words:

“Today, I’m taking y’all on a journey. The journey of how little Sabrina went from an innocent girl who didn’t have a care in the world, to feeling the pressures of society and succumbing to her inner negative thoughts, and all the struggles and learnings she has gone through in the last 24 years of being in this body. So buckle up and hopefully, this story helps someone out there going through it feel less alone. 

Growing up, I always had a turbulent relationship with my body and eating habits. As a baby, I was pretty chubby, but was also a colic baby, meaning I was just a complete nightmare to be around. I would cry all the time and fuss about eating so much to the point that my mom would spend hours trying to get me to eat and had to feed me water with a spoon. I was really out here trying to dehydrate myself. Over the years, I continued to have problems with eating and would need to be force-fed by my parents. At that time, I had really poor eating habits and would waste all the lunches my parents would pack for me. 

This all changed though around the age of 8 when my body finally recognized how amazing food tasted and I started to inhale everything in my line of sight. My diet was super unhealthy at this point. I would prefer fast food instead of the home-cooked meals my parents made for me. After school, I would beg my parents to take me to McDonald’s, KFC, or Taco Bell. At McDonald’s, I would order 2 fish filet sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and maybe a diet soda to wash it down, which would all be demolished by me before we even got home. 

Around the age of 10, my family had moved to India where we ended up staying for two years during my middle school years. My school at the time offered meals on campus and it was buffet style. We would have so many options for breakfast, lunch, and snacks and no one to supervise us or tell us how much we can or can’t eat. This was literally my dream come true and I happily ate as much as I wanted and didn’t give a care in the world. 

However, soon enough, this safe bubble I was in popped. I distinctly remember a specific time when my family and I were in Goa, a beautiful beach city in India, for vacation. I was about 11 years old at the time and was starting to develop into my womanhood – aka grow boobs – and I had no idea what was going on with my body. I was playing in the ocean with my sister with our clothes on and my mom called me to come out of the water. She told me to cover myself or wear another shirt on top since my boobs were very visible under the wet shirt. I remember feeling so ashamed about this and immediately ran back to our hotel room and started crying. At this point, I didn’t even feel comfortable wearing a swimsuit because I knew my body was going through changes, and I felt so so self-conscious. I didn’t know this at the time but this was a significant turning point in how I viewed my body. I would continue to feel bad about my body for many years to come. 

As puberty hit me like a freight train, I continued to gain a lot more weight. By this time, we had moved back to California and I was starting high school. I was close to ~150 pounds being a 5’ 6” girl and my relationship with my body grew more turbulent. My doctor told me I was overweight and suggested that I exercise even though I was playing competitive sports at the time. I started comparing my body to other girls in my class and would feel so bad about myself. During track and tennis practice, I would always feel like I didn’t look as “athletic” or as “slim” as other girls in our sports uniforms. I remember hating my tennis uniform because it was a sleeveless top that made me conscious of my arm fat. I would feel bad about eating the bagels that my teammate’s parents would bring for tennis meets. I was envious of the other girls who ate whatever they wanted and their bodies still looked “skinny.” It seemed like they didn’t even have to try to look that way and here I was beating myself up about eating a bagel. 

I started to dread going to the pool or the beach because it meant that I had to wear a swimsuit. While other girls were wearing bikinis and feeling super comfortable in their bodies, I still couldn’t even bring myself to wear a one-piece without feeling fat & undesirable. Mainstream media made me feel like the ideal body type was to be skinny and have a flat stomach. I was not skinny nor did I have a flat stomach which made me feel like something was wrong with me, my body, and that I should be doing something to change my body. 

This feeling worsened every time I went to a family party and some uncle or aunty would comment on my body. “Oh Sabrina, you look like you gained weight,” or “Sabrina, you are looking better than last time. Looks like you have lost some weight.” These comments made me feel even more insecure, self-conscious, and made me feel like I had to look a certain way to be considered pretty and worthy. Word of advice to anyone who gets unwarranted comments like this from family or friends: fat shaming and skinny shaming is never okay, don’t let them get to your head. It says more about their own insecurities and way of thinking than anything else if the first thing they feel the need to comment on is someone’s physical appearance. It’s such a shallow way of looking at the world. 

Of course, I let their comments get to my head. Self-confidence was at an all-time low and my body dysmorphia led me down a very restrictive path. When I was a senior in high school, I decided enough was enough and I was done feeling bad about myself and my body. I decided to go on a very strict low-carb, high protein diet and exercised intensely every day for 45 minutes. I would have some cereal for breakfast, a salad for lunch (probably ~300 calories), maybe an orange (like a small ass cutie) as a snack, and would head to my part-time job after school.

During this time, I was strictly logging everything I ate on My Fitness Pal and was so anal about hitting my daily calorie, and macro count. My body was not getting the nutrition it needed and I started to slowly develop a binge eating disorder. I would have a very light calorie day at school, would go to work in the evening at the accounting firm I was interning at, and try to avoid looking at the table full of food that my coworkers brought. 

Eventually, I would succumb to my cravings – cause ya girl was basically starving herself during the day and was so hungry. I would take any food I could get my hands on, go down to the basement at work where I would usually file documents, and gorge myself. I would feel so ashamed for doing this that I would literally make sure no one was near me while I stuffed my face – like I haven’t had food in days. After I finished binge eating, I would usually feel so bad about myself and so physically uncomfortable. I remember one day when it was a particularly bad binge eating episode, I literally sat on the floor with food all around me and sobbed uncontrollably at work. There were days where I would go back home after these episodes and exercise to burn off some calories to make myself feel better. But this never made me feel better since I was 1) so bloated and uncomfortable 2) felt like I ruined all my progress for the day. This would usually end in me breaking down sobbing, feeling more guilt, and ashamed. I would look at my body in the mirror, hate what I saw, and to make myself feel better, I would binge eat again. 

This was a very silent struggle that I went through. My parents didn’t know that I was going through this because honestly, I was doing a pretty good job of hiding it. I would always binge either at work or late at night at home once my parents went to sleep. I would be so ashamed of how much I was eating that I would make sure to do it in secret. 

It took me a while to realize what was happening and what I was doing to myself. I knew that I was binge eating because of my restrictive diet, but I never made myself throw up after these episodes, so I never labeled it as an “eating disorder.” Boy was I wrong. One day, after a particularly bad binge eating episode, I googled “How do you know you have an eating disorder?” and “How do you recover from binge eating?” This sent me down a rabbit hole until I finally opened my eyes to my reality. If I continued down this path I knew this wouldn’t end well. I dealt with my eating disorder for almost 8 months and that was probably the lowest point in my body journey thus far. 

After months of this, I knew I couldn’t live like this any longer. I didn’t feel healthy or comfortable within my own body and I hated feeling so superficial about myself. I started to be honest with myself about what I was doing to my body and how destructive my mindset was. The summer before my freshman year of college was when I found the plant-based community and started watching documentaries like “Coswspiracy” and “Forks over knives” and read books like “The China Study” and “The Starch Solution” (highly recommend). I instantly gave up meat after bawling throughout those documentaries. I learned about the environmental impacts of the animal and dairy industry and realized I had to make a change. I also loved how in the plant-based community, there was a focus on eating nutritious whole foods and not restricting the number of calories you ate. I was vegan for the first 2 years of college, transitioned into vegetarianism after, and am currently trying to go vegan again. 

During this time, I also came across the concept of intuitive eating which is essentially eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Sounds easy enough right? But if you have ever struggled with an eating disorder or even followed any diet rules you know this isn’t so easy in practice. Since I had restricted certain foods and had binge-eating tendencies, my body was so out of touch with its natural hunger cues. Psychologically, I needed time to get over the diet culture mindset. It took me about 4 months to get to a point where I could stop counting calories and feel comfortable with eating whatever I wanted and however much I wanted. 

During this period, my focus changed from losing weight to listening to my body. I worked on shedding all of this conditioning I had about food, diet, and my ideal body. I was finally eating intuitively. What helped me during this time was to ditch the calorie-tracking apps and unfollowing any accounts that were promoting a certain body type.

In college, my body continued to go through many changes. I gained the infamous Freshman 15 (more like Freshman 25 in my case), and didn’t exercise consistently the first two years. That was the first time since my childhood where I felt liberated and unrestricted. I didn’t care as much about being a certain weight or looking a certain way, and I let myself eat freely without limits (with the only limit being that I was vegan but that didn’t stop me from finding the wonderful world of vegan junk food). 

Of course, this liberating feeling didn’t last long. I started to feel bad about all my weight gain and started beating myself up for letting it get this far. I would try to go to the gym to do cardio or a group class but never stayed consistent and felt demotivated by all the strength and stamina I had lost. The summer before my junior year, I discovered the weightlifting community and loved the focus on gaining strength & building muscle vs. losing weight and having a skinny figure. This was a huge mindset shift for me in how I viewed exercise. Prior to this, I always saw exercise as something I had to do to burn calories and lose weight. Weightlifting completely reframed that for me, and now I wanted to lift so that I could gain strength and see my progress. 

As I continued to weightlift throughout my junior year, I started eating more since I was hungry and wanted to gain muscle. I started to see how food is actually fuel that would help me get stronger and build muscles vs. something that I had to limit and keep track of. The last two years of college were probably the most comfortable and proud I felt of my body. I worked really hard to gain strength and shed past conditionings of restrictive eating. I felt like I finally arrived at a place where I could feel confident in my body and love what I saw when I looked in the mirror. 

Now, don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying I’m suddenly happy in my skin or that I never have destructive thoughts about my body. I still look at the mirror and focus on the “flabby” or “unflattering” parts. I still pinch the fat on my stomach, arms and back and wish it wasn’t there. I still have moments of low self-esteem. I still look at the mirror sometimes and am not happy with what I see. 

The media makes us believe that diet culture is so mainstream and that everyone needs to adhere to these strict ways of eating to look a certain way. It’s truly scary how ingrained this is in our culture, how often it is practiced and seen as normal. The staggering truth is that the diet industry is a $60 billion/ year industry. We are constantly being pitched something that makes us believe we need to lose weight – a fitness program, celebrities promoting weight loss pills, brands selling clothes that only fit a certain body type, etc. It’s hard to not fall into the trap of thinking that we need to change our bodies when all we see online is eurocentric beauty standards and a lack of representation. 

Since the pandemic started, my whole workout routine has completely gone out the window. Without a gym, I’ve been struggling to stay motivated to do at-home workouts. I have lost all the muscle mass I worked so hard to build in the last few years and have beaten myself up for not working out consistently. I have slipped back into feelings of low self-worth and have had moments where I’ve been critical of my body in the past year. Whenever I have these moments, I remind myself that this is MY body and the only body I will ever have. It’s a privilege to have this body and I have to honor and love it at all stages. I spend extra time on self-care and self-love practices that help me get out of that negative headspace and allow me to focus inward instead of outward. Taking time for gratitude has been essential and I thank my body for being my vessel on this earth and allowing me to have all these dope experiences. This has allowed me to be comfortable with accepting myself the way I am in this present moment. 

If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would hug her and tell her that she is beautiful and loved just the way she is. I would tell her that your weight doesn’t define your worth. Diet culture is a load of bullshit and you should never try to conform to something you see on the internet. Food is meant to be enjoyed and life is meant to be unrestrictive. I would tell her that criticizing your body for years hasn’t helped you at all so why don’t you try accepting yourself and see what happens. 

As a society, we are conditioned to think that we need to look a certain way to feel happy and confident in ourselves. The media feeds into this thinking and makes us feel like we’re less than and/or not beautiful just the way we are. If you’re reading this and have been through or currently going through something similar, just know you are amazing just the way you are, and fuck society’s nonsense. Don’t value your body over your being. No one can take that away from you and you have so much more power and agency than you realize. Everyone has body issues, even those you idolize. When you come to realize that everybody deals with body image issues in their own way – even the people you might consider as flawless – then you can start to accept yourself just the way you are. We are all different shapes, and sizes, and that’s what makes each one of us unique and this should be celebrated. There is no one else like you. We only have one life to live and one body so we must take care of our home & nourish it with love, kindness, and empathy. I want to share my story with others because I know I am not alone in how I feel about my body. We need to speak to one another and shed ourselves of the programming society has instilled in us. The more we do this the more we can feel liberated and closer to our truth.” -Sabrina

Trixi: My Post-Bodybuilding Journey to Intuitive Eating

Story 4 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 Trixi’s story, written in her own words:

“Growing up in a stereotypical Asian household, I was expected to be above average. I had to be better than the best. I always felt like I had to give 110% percent to prove that I am worthy. Anything less than perfect made me feel like a failure. I meticulously planned and created lists to make sure I got into a good college, and secure a job after. I took the advanced classes, became board members for clubs, and made myself look like the best candidate in writing. The last thing I wanted was for my parents to think I was slacking. 

So ever since I can remember, self-doubt loomed over me like a dark cloud. I always had negative thoughts in my head telling me I couldn’t achieve anything even if I tried my best. After graduating college, I expected the negative thoughts would die down, but they continued to weigh down on me. Regardless of what I achieved, I still felt like I didn’t accomplish enough. 

Then, I decided I was over it!!! To overcome my insecurities and prove to myself I was capable, I decided that I would complete a challenge soo hard that if I achieved it, it would immediately squash all the negative notions I had about myself. This was the very first challenge I took on for me, and not anyone else. I was so used to performing to meet the expectations of others, but this is something that I wanted to do for myself. 

Disclaimer: We are not defined by our achievements! We are all inherently worthy. But, I didn’t know that then. lol So in June 2019, I signed up to compete in my very first bikini bodybuilding competition…and this is where the plot thickens: what I initially thought was simply a test to boost my self-esteem turned out to be the beginning of my body positivity journey and healing my relationship with food.

For 6 months, I followed a strict meal plan and training regimen. I completely cut out sugar and dairy (two of my fave things), I drank 1.5 gallons of water a day (which was already a challenge in and of itself) and gosh, I said no to pad thai more times than I can count, and I fucking love pad thai. Training included fasted cardio in the morning, about 2 hours of training in the evening, followed by 30 mins of post-training cardio. In addition to changing my physical activity and nutrition habits, I had to learn to better manage my money (cause bodybuilding ain’t cheap) and my time to juggle a full time job and somewhat have a social life.

I took it day by day. I showed up and eventually these tasks became habits. I began to see myself as an athlete and I started to believe that I could really win this competition. There were a lot of temptations (food, drinking, sleeping in). Executing the plan wasn’t easy, but making the right decision was simple. I know that most may have difficulty with following very strict rules but having a plan and checking off boxes was what I was used to. I had the mentality of “If I want this, then I have to do that”. And if I don’t, I won’t get it. This time, the goal was to win, and all I had to do was to execute the clear-cut plan that was given to me.

November rolled around and it was finally competition day. I placed 1st in True Novice, 2nd in Novice, and 4th in Open. But regardless of my placing, I already felt like a winner. I proved to myself that I was strong, I can show up no matter what, no excuses. Even before I hit the stage, I was so proud of what I accomplished. I didn’t even care if I didn’t win or not. No judge could have told me that I didn’t bust my ass to get here! While bodybuilding helped me gain confidence, it also brought to light my complicated relationship with food.

After my competition, my training and meal plan became more flexible. But this flexibility really threw me off. When I stuck with my meal plan, I wondered if I was being too strict, and not giving myself time to enjoy food. When I did enjoy food, I wondered if I was letting myself go. I fell in a loop. My mind would switch between “Follow your meal plan or else you’ll gain weight too quickly” then restrict myself from eating anything “bad”. But then I would think, “Enjoy some treats! Live your life!” and I would binge. I would eat and eat, waiting for my stomach to tell me that I was full, but it felt like my stomach was a bottomless pit that was impossible to satiate. I was waiting for my brain to tell me, “ok that’s enough,” but it never came.

This battle led me to explore my eating habits growing up. When my family went to restaurants, we would always order like an insane amount of food and get absolutely stuffed! Even when we were so full that we could barely breathe, we always made room for dessert. “Food is nourishment!” they justified. But rather than focusing on nutrition, food was mainly for comfort and celebration. Even when my body told me to stop eating, I ignored all satiety signals to continue celebrating. So even before bodybuilding, my satiety cues were practically nonexistent.

The cycle went on for two months. Restrict and binge. Restrict and binge. Restrict harder, binger harder. I looked in the mirror and saw I was no longer lean. Looking back, I didn’t gain much weight but at the time I hated what I saw. I felt big, I felt out of control. Mentally, I was slipping.

I knew this eating pattern was unhealthy but I felt like I couldn’t get out of it. It got to a point where I no longer trusted myself; the body that once triumphed on stage was now failing me. It felt like my body was hijacked by something else, and I was stuck in this vessel, just watching myself derail. Naturally, the scale started to go up and I felt like I was gaining weight all wrong. I spent so much time looking at myself in the mirror and criticizing myself. Front angle, side angle. I would hold and pinch my fat, wishing I was lean again because lean meant I embodied discipline and hard work. It meant that my behavior aligned with my goals. Back then, the goal was to get lean to win a competition. Now, the goal was to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, but I had no clue what that meant! It isn’t so straightforward. There is no clear-cut plan for that.

People began to notice that I refused to eat and drink anything that wasn’t outside my meal plan. Comments like “Just one bite won’t hurt!” and “It’s only one shot” really bothered me, because at the time, I felt like one bite or one shot can really ruin my body. Following my meal plan gave me a false sense of security, and I didn’t know how to transition out of it post-competition. 

Christmas was my all-time favorite holiday, but that year, I dreaded it. Thinking about all the food that will be at parties gave me so much anxiety. And just my luck, that year, our annual Christmas potluck was held at my apartment. Even at my own party, I was so scared to eat the “wrong” thing. I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed, but on the outside, I pretended I was okay with not eating or drinking anything. I tied so much of my identity to being disciplined and put together that I was terrified my friends would find out the confident athlete they saw on stage just a few months ago wasn’t there anymore.

That night, I eventually caved. I started to eat, and again, I couldn’t stop. By the end of the night, I felt so uncomfortable that I went to my room to change to less fitting clothes. When I took off my shirt and saw how bloated I was, the self-loathe set in and I started to cry. Never in a million years did I think I would develop body dysmorphia. I was 10lb up my stage weight which actually put me in a healthier weight, but in my eyes, I gained too much. I hated myself for being out of control and I hated myself for having such a fucked-up relationship with food. I felt disconnected with myself and with others. I felt alone and overall a fucking mess.

My friends saw me breakdown. “I didn’t want you guys to judge me.” I admitted shamefully. But as one of my friends put it, “The people who love you will always be there for you unconditionally, and the people who do judge don’t matter.” Seeing my friends concerned was my wake up call.

After that night, I decided it was time to heal my relationship with food. The first step I took was to destigmatize foods as being either “good” or “bad.” I learned that restricting myself was just as harmful as indulging which often led me to binge. Opening myself to all foods lifted constraining thoughts. After this shift in mindset, I felt liberated and empowered to trust myself again.

Next, I adjusted my eating habits to not only be healthy but also sustainable. Fitness is a huge part of my life and to improve my performance, I need to fuel my body properly. At the same time, I love to hang out with friends over drinks, and eat with my family at the dinner table. Finding balance was a whole lot of trial and error. Eventually I learned I feel my best when I eat nutritious foods about 80% of the time. I meal prep most of my food and occasionally I use Door Dash (aka my best friend during quarantine). This may not work for everyone. It is completely subjective and depends on your own goals and lifestyle. 

Lastly, I evaluated and reset my intentions. I learned that my beliefs around food were rooted in self-loathe and punishment. I felt like I had to be perfect all the time or else my efforts didn’t count. It was an all-or-nothing mentality. Now, I see it as a journey of self-discovery. I know that I am going to slip up occasionally, and that’s okay! I have learned to respect my body and to love myself no matter what stage I’m in. If I am making an effort to honor my body, I know I am on the right path.

Despite the mental roller coaster that bodybuilding put me through, I would still compete again. I came in with the intention to build trust in myself, and looking back, it taught me to do just that and more. Next time around, I won’t be competing to prove I am enough, but simply for the fun of improving in this sport. I’ll be coming back with a better mindset, and a healthier relationship with food. It’s been a year and a half since my competition, and I am just now feeling comfortable with my eating habits and my ever changing appearance. While my relationship with food is a work in progress, I am really proud of how far I’ve come.” -Trixi

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ

When Normaje “Nana” had her son, she really saw her love for party planning come to life. She wanted to do the most for all his parties – everything from the food, the decorations, and the dessert table. Nana’s auntie has always inspired her to bake because she was always in the kitchen baking new items and trying out different recipes. After witnessing her aunt bake for years, she decided to try her luck in the kitchen as well. She wanted to have her son’s dessert table be a certain way, and places she checked out just wouldn’t have what she wanted, or was over her budget. Anticipating and planning her son’s parties was around the time Nana noticed that she was getting more and more into baking. She had no idea that her love for food would one day turn into her small business, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ.

When Nana would showcase her son’s dessert table on social media, a few people would keep a mental note of her aesthetic and talent. When her friends started to have kids, they would reach out to her to cater and set up their dessert tables. When others started to notice her passion for party planning and creating different desserts in the kitchen, Nana started to think that maybe she could turn her hobby into another source of income to get her little family into a better position. People were inquiring about her dessert tables, and she would post the finished look on social media. Suddenly, she was known as the girl to go to for desserts and all things “party.” But like any small businesses owner, the self-doubt started to creep in.

” I was so hesitant!” Nana said remembering how nervous she was to announce her small business to the public. “I was afraid of what people would think, and of course the outcome. Would my stuff even interest people? Would I even get any clientele? So many questions ran through my head until I was like, ‘you know what… what can I possibly lose?'”

And just like that, the Bay Area native became the owner of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, LLC. Nana describes BUSSDOWNMAMÍ as a one-stop-shop for events. She offers services for dessert and food catering, dessert tables, custom gifts, and more. If you faintly remember BUSSDOWNMAMÍ being referred to by another name, you have definitely been a faithful follower! When Nana first started to offer her services, she was offering dessert tables, party decorations, custom gifts, and a few minimal desserts such as chocolate covered strawberries, rice krispies, and Oreo dishes, to name a few. When she first started, her business was referred to as #DIYMAMÍ. The name came as a joke to mock her mom, who would always hashtag “cookingmamí,” in all of her Instagram posts. When Nana branched out and started introducing food plates and items, her friends would refer to her and her food as “NewNewsBussDown.” Being named two different entities became complicated and a little confusing to outsiders. So, she decided to ditch one name. Instead of letting go of one name completely, she decided to merge the two.

Nana started taking actual orders under BUSSDOWNMAMÍ around 2018-2019. She was originally known for her desserts and sweet treats. But customers couldn’t help but reach out to see if she would be serving the plates she would post her on social media. Nana has always been a huge foodie. In 2018, she really started to take an interest in cooking. Back in the day when she had Twitter, she made a thread of food, and the first dish she attempted to make was a shrimp boil. She looks back now and laughs that her and her husband were at Boiling Crab or Ray’s practically every weekend. Nana took a crack at it and was surprised how delicious her shrimp boil turned out. The success of this dish encouraged her to try out other foods – especially foods from fancy places that would cost an arm and a leg to dine in. She branched out to cooking steaks, well known side dishes, and dishes from other cultures. Now, her husband refuses to eat anywhere that he feels Nana could do better. There are times where they order from restaurants and he just gives her the “I told you so,” look, because they’re not satisfied with the meal.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s Quesabirria tacos and Birria Lumpia are one of the most popular items on her menu, so it’s surprising to learn that initially going into the business, Nana had no plans on selling food plates. People kept reaching out to her about the food she would post on social media, so she thought she would just give it a go. Her first pop up was a huge success, and she was glad that she decided to test it out. Nana figured that offering food plates as part of her services would be a step in the right direction. Since her main goal was to become a one-stop-shop for events, it only made sense that she include food catering to her long list of services. She’s glad that she listened to what her followers wanted instead of just going the route she had originally envisioned, because offering things outside of dessert is what made BUSSDOWNMAMÍ take off. She listened, and she received.

Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is a one-stop-shop with a lengthy menu, not just anything makes the cut. Nana still has a process on how a food item makes it permanently on the official menu. All of her food experiments get posted to her feed or story, and then she waits. If she gets multiple requests and inquiries, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ will do a trial run to test out if it sells and what costumers think of the new item. If the dish is successful, it earns a spot on BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s official menu. Nana loves that her business is an “all in one” business, because it gives the freedom to switch it up with her items without having to worry about ruining her business’ certain aesthetic. But despite her extended menu, there are still certain items that the business is known for. Dessert wise, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is known for their Banana Cream Pudding and Gourmet Caramel Apples, and food wise, it is hands down their Quesabirria and Birria Lumpia. When Nana hosts pop-ups, these desserts sell within minutes, and her Quesabirria and Birria Lumpia preorders sell out within the same day posted.

With items selling out the same day of announcing a pop-up, Nana is always buying ingredients in bulk. To maintain a system where every costumer gets the freshest products, she has to keep a close eye on her inventory. She keeps note of the amount of everything she purchases and what can be reused for the next pop-up, and takes into consideration what won’t last because it’s perishable. And it only makes sense that BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has two fridges to make sure everything is properly stored and ready for pop-up day. Other items like boxes, other packaging items, and back stock are stored at both pick up locations.

It took some time for BUSSDOWNMAMÍ to organically grow its clientele, but word of mouth and the power of social media worked in their favor. Now, Nana has costumers reaching out to her and placing orders that she doesn’t even know in real life. When she gets direct messages from accounts who have 0 mutual friends or connections, it’s a good feeling because it proves that how she is advertising her products are interesting those who she doesn’t know personally. It means BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is set apart from other small businesses doing similar work. But with growing popularity comes the concern of safety during pick-ups. Nana always makes sure to double check Instagram pages, ensure payments went through prior to pick up, and makes sure her business is “well protected.” Overall, Nana has faith in humanity, and welcomes orders from strangers.

But don’t get it twisted, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s success was not an overnight thing. It took a while before she started to get the traffic she is so used to now. Nana didn’t come right out of the gates selling out every week, even though that’s what her followers are used to seeing now. It took a lot of hard work and trial and error to get BUSSDOWNMAMÍ to where it is today. She went from being booked once a month to being booked months in advance. The progress was slow and steady, but in 2019 she started to see that she was starting to get booked 2 weeks in advance. 2020 is when BUSSDOWNMAMÍ really started to gain popularity and blew up. She saw her calendar being booked sometimes even months in advance, and she couldn’t believe it. Nana never imagined that her small business would be this busy. And she’s proud to say that she got herself and her small business to this point. Even though she started a few years back, there were very few businesses on social media that she could use as a reference and learn from.

” It was all trial and error,” she explained. ” It took time to figure out what worked vs. what didn’t, how to properly market, and understand the market / what interests / draws people in.”

For the most part, Nana keeps her personal life completely separate from her business. She does have a full-time job at Kaiser, and loves that she can balance out BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, a full-time job, going to school, and being a mother all at once. It’s her biggest flex because she knows that being a young mother is usually looked down on, and she is happy to say that she is holding it down for her family at 23 years old. And she admits that sometimes she surprises herself with how much she piles onto her plate. She believes in the power of hard work and dedication, and knows that if she wants something to be successful, she needs to put in the time and effort. One thing Nana doesn’t do is make excuses or feel sorry for herself. Her attitude screams, “keep your eyes on the prize,” especially since she has a family to provide for. To be successful, at the end of the day it comes down to how bad do you want it? And Nana has no issues putting in the extra time and work, because she believes a person will find time or make time for things that are important to them.

“My business is my baby!” Nana said, explaining how she finds the time for BUSSDOWNMAMÍ despite her busy schedule. “If it means coming home after a long day at work to spend a couple more hours to contribute to the success of my business, then so be it. We are all dealt a deck of cards, some have it better than others. Needless to say, it’s ultimately up to you and what you choose to do with the cards you are dealt. Anybody who wants something is going to go for it, no matter how it played out or what it comes with. I’m just grateful to have such a supportive husband and easy going son that I’m able to get what I need done.”

And the grind doesn’t and won’t stop, because Nana has no plans of slowing down. When asked if she would ever leave her full-time job to pursue BUSSDOWNMAMÍ full-time, she broke it down plain and simple. Her small business means everything to her, it is her creative outlet, her baby, her biggest flex for her and her family. As her business grows, it only gets harder for her to meet the demand of orders. Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is so successful and is selling out constantly, Nana will never put her family in a position where they have to sacrifice or question if they’ll make enough to cover the bills for the month. She understands that some people have the opportunity to quit their full-time job to pursue their dreams, but she also sees that those aren’t the cards she was dealt. She prioritizes her family and their well-being, and even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is successful, and she bets that she could probably make a living entirely on her small business, she prefers to keep her full-time job. Her job in the medical field provides her and her family with great benefits and sets her up for the future with a retirement plan. Nana’s mentality is simple, if she can manage both a full-time job and her small business, why not continue with both?

When people think of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, they think of Nana, the one woman show doing it all! But Nana really stresses the importance of her husband helping her fill in the gaps when needed to maintain a smooth flow of the business. Her husband helps her run errands, do pick-ups, and even helps throw down in the kitchen if needed. She is thankful that he can keep her grounded when she is folding under pressure, which usually results in her not speaking very kindly to him in the moment. Her husband doesn’t hesitate to stop what he’s doing to tend to a stressed out Nana to help a lending hand. And when it’s food sales and pop-up days, her family really steps in to help her with the whole process. They have come up with a system where they all have a certain task to tend to without her having to ask or manage, which is a great help on those chaotic days. She is so grateful that she has her husband and family that tolerate her breakdowns and attitude when she’s under pressure.

Even though BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has seen a tremendous amount of support and sales, Nana still has her moments where she feels overwhelmed and discouraged. She has been doing this for years, but she is not prone to making mistakes. There have been many times where she has had hiccups on the day of pick-ups and gets overwhelmed with frustration. There are times when the “baking gods” aren’t on her side when she has a large order to fulfill, or her chocolate isn’t the right consistency it usually is, and other bumps in the road on prep days. What keeps her going and not just deciding to give up right then and there is knowing that there are people on the other side of those orders that are counting on her to execute what they requested. Times likes these, Nana has to take a deep breath, keep working, and remind herself that she has to deliver to her customers.

In September 2020, Nana’s grandpa passed away, and she lost all motivation to cook, bake, or tend to her business. It got to the point where she couldn’t complete a task without getting anxiety or having mental breakdowns. The passing of her grandpa was something she was not prepared for, and it turned her world completely upside-down. During this time, Nana thought it was best to take a break from BUSSDOWNMAMÍ until she was up for it again. She canceled orders that were pre-booked in advance because she mentally could not handle it all. Nana admits that canceling orders is very out of her character, since she goes above and beyond to deliver to her costumers no matter how tired, busy, or booked she is. But she had to put her mental health first to give herself a break and a time to mourn. She took a few months off of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ, and the whole time she questioned if she had made the right move. By this time, so deep into the quarantine, there was so much competition that Nana was unsure if her customers would return back after her break. When she got the courage to start back up again, her clients picked back up from where they left off.

“The thought of the market being so competitive and questioning if  people will still order from me after being gone for so long raced back and forth in my head,” Nana said. “But my first pop up back, my clients did not fail to prove to me why I continue to do what I do. With that being said, I’m just honestly so so so blessed to have such solid and loyal client base. They are the ones who truly keep me going with this entire business.”

Since Nana started BUSSDOWNMAMÍ prior to the pandemic in 2018-2019, she definitely had to switch up her pop-up dynamic because of COVID. Her family and costumers’ safety is so important to her, and she doesn’t want anyone to be at risk. Because of COVID, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ has cut down on their pop-ups. But as the pandemic persisted, Nana had to come up with a new routine to ensure that she could serve her clients, but at the same time keep everyone involved safe. Clients are required to use electronic payments for orders, must be wearing a mask, and must remain in their vehicle for pick-ups. Since Nana also works in the medical field and is handling food, she gets routinely tested. By following these protocols, Nana hopes that it brings her family and costumers some peace of mind.

“I had to put a lot of my plans and pop-ups on hold,” Nana said on behalf of BUSSDOWNMAMÍ. “I wasn’t able to operate as often as I was and that overall just kind of set me back. I know it’s easy to just keep selling but I have a family to protect and wouldn’t want to put my family in any position to be exposed.”

COVID also brought some other hurdles. When COVID hit, Nana started to see a lot of new Instagram businesses starting up. Suddenly, there were a lot more strawberry dippers, dessert pages, and food pages. At first, Nana felt some type of way, she felt that she put a lot of hard work into BUSSDOWNMAMÍ years prior to the pandemic, only to see competitors show up at an alarming rate during COVID. She had to remind herself that this is just a part of the business – there will always be competition. Nana quickly got over it, and realized that the pandemic hit people differently, a lot of people lost their jobs and the government isn’t being helpful with resources and financial assistance. She realized that she never knows what a person is going through during these tough times, and isn’t bothered by other businesses selling similar food items, because at the end of the day, “everyone can eat!”

“With a successful business, it’s going to get competitive, and you have to learn to adapt and understand that,” she said. “I’m the type of person that doesn’t like doing the same things others are, that’s why I’m just ultimately so thankful that I shaped my business to be a one-stop-shop so I don’t do just desserts or I don’t do just food, so it’s definitely a huge perk being so universal.”

Nana admits that she felt some type of way in the beginning, but that quickly changed. She laughs and says it’s because she’s an Aries and gets over things quickly. She knows that other businesses popping up will ultimately not affect her business, so it shouldn’t be any of her concern. In fact, Nana welcomes other small businesses to reach out to her. She loves to connect with others and come together as a community to collab and do giveaways. When she is completely booked with orders and costumers inquire about wanting to order, Nana will refer them to other businesses that sell similar items. And these small businesses refer BUSSDOWNMAMÍ as well. Nana appreciates that she and other small businesses help each other grow and succeed by being supportive and keep word going of the other business. She hopes to work with more small businesses in the future.

BUSSDOWNMAMÍ ‘s goal for 2021 is to keep growing and try new things and techniques. She wants to gain more clientele, gain more knowledge, and step out of her comfort zone. Nana hopes to have more availability so she can cater to all the customers that want to try out her food. One day she hopes to open up a physical location, and hopes to do that in the next couple of years. In the meantime, BUSSDOWNMAMÍ is taking orders through DM’s and emails because her order forms are currently under construction. She plans to launch her official website and order forms hopefully by the end of February. Nana’s advice to other small businesses is something she found on social media.

“I seen this post a couple months or maybe a year ago that changed my perspective indefinitely and I know others can probably relate as well: ‘When you feel discouraged about your business idea because there’s so many people around you doing the same exact thing, go to the grocery store & look down the bread isle. Same idea 15+ companies selling the same exact thing!‘ Everyone can eat!”

Melonaire Juice

Growing up, Justine remembers going to picnics, birthday parties at the park, barbeques, and other social gatherings on warm sunny days. At these parties, there was always one item that was on the menu – her parents’ melon juice. The ice cold melon juice, with the freshly shredded cantaloupe strings, and square jellies dancing at the bottom of the cup, was the refreshing drink that she craved being in the sun all afternoon. The melon juice always quenched everyone’s thirst at these type of gatherings. She remembers her parents bringing the melon juice to her little sister’s volleyball fundraisers, and it would always be a hit. A lot of people would tell Justine’s parents to sell the melon juice and make a business out of it. They were flattered, but shied away from the idea. To this day, Justine associates all of these happy and fun memories with her parents’ famous melon juice. For as long as she can remember, making the melon juice has always been a team effort amongst her parents.

“It was like team work between my parents,” Justine said reminiscing. “It was their thing. Sometimes if my mom was at work, my dad would make it himself, but for the most part I always think of them together. And then my sister and I would… you know… enjoy the fruits of their labor,” she laughed.

When the pandemic and Shelter in Place orders hit, Justine, like many others, saw small businesses pop up from left and right. She described it as a new age – a Renaissance. She was thoroughly inspired by all the people she saw starting up their own business ventures and running with their ideas. Justine was in awe, she wondered how much courage it took these small business owners to pursue their passion projects and side hustles. She admired how brave they were to not care about the judgements of others and stepping out of their comfort zones. Justine wondered if she would ever have that kind of courage to go after a business venture for herself.

It wasn’t until her little sister started her jewelry business that Justine thought, “Maybe I can start a side hustle too.” Her little sister, without knowing it, was the push that Justine needed to dip her toe in the entrepreneur world. After all, if not during a pandemic – where she had more free time than she’s had in years – then when? COVID-19 pushed Justine to start Melonaire Juice, even though she was very anxious about the whole thing. Still, she wanted to spend her time in quarantine doing something productive, that she enjoyed, and that could make her some extra income on the side.

Justine got the idea to use her parents’ cantaloupe juice recipe since it was always a success anywhere they brought it. She remembered all the good memories that the melon juice reminded her of, and wanted to spread that same happiness to those around her. During the summer time, she asked her parents how they would feel if she used their melon juice recipe and started selling it to people outside of their circle. After all, they only shared it with family and those that turned into family, like her sister’s volleyball team. They threw that ball right back in her court and told her they would support her if she chose to do it. It was her mom that hinted closer to yes and mentioned that maybe it was a good idea because the weather was nice and still warm in the Bay Area. Justine was happy that her parents were on board with her idea, and she was excited to include them in the next steps – like designing a logo, naming the business, and how to advertise.

In fact, that was Justine’s favorite part of the process – getting it all started and deciding the aesthetics of her business. She is all about the vision, and was excited to use her creativity and bring her visions to life. Justine bounced back name ideas with her best friends and parents, and Melonaire Juice was the winner. Finally having a name for her small business made it all the more real. She teamed up with my little sister to create her logo, tweaking her ideas and tailoring them to her liking. Justine would send the progress logo photos to her parents every time she got an update. It was very important to her to keep her parents in the loop because she felt so grateful that they had her back and approved of her using their “recipe.” She wanted to do right by them and include them in the process.

Once Justine had her official Melonaire Juice logo, she was motivated to figure out the packaging. Packaging was very important to Justine because she knew she would have to take product photos to advertise the cantaloupe juice. Being a person with an artistic eye, she already had visions of what kind of shots she wanted to post to promote it. Justine’s goal was to have everything – from the logo, to the packaging, to the photos, to the color schemes on Instagram – be visually pleasing. The colors she used for the logo and Instagram page were purposely picked to have the viewer associate Melonaire Juice with warm weather, being a refreshing drink, being outside in the sun, and to have a tropical theme. Everything started coming together, but Justine’s doubts quickly took over her mind. On top of that, she was on a time clock, was she going to drop the melon juice while it was still summer time, or would she talk herself out of it and would have to wait until after winter passed?

The creating process was Justine’s favorite part of starting her small business. But in the back of her mind she always had doubts about what she was doing. Justine would try to distract herself by just pushing on to the next step to get her business on its feet. But when everything was complete and she had no more steps to take other than publicly announcing a pre-order date, her self-doubt was more amplified than ever. Justine describes herself as a very anxious person, and she went through every scenario possible on why people wouldn’t buy from her. She went back on forth on whether opening up Melonaire Juice was a good business move or not. It was a battle between Justine vs. Justine, and she either had to fight for her small business, or fall victim to the self-negative talk she fed herself. She had no choice but to confront each question of doubt head on, and convince herself that her melon juice was worth a shot. She wanted to make sure that her product stood out, and got discouraged with the idea that people wouldn’t give her melon juice a try because they could easily get something similar at a local taqueria. But she has never seen the Filipino version of agua fresca, especially a cantaloupe version served with the toppings her family recipe offered.

“I would ask myself: what makes me different, and what makes this product different?” Justine said replaying her train of thought at the time. She remembers all the questions she would ask herself, “Are people even going to buy it? What if only my friends buy it? Would it be able to travel word of mouth?”

Every time she had these doubts, she would circle back with her best friends, family, and boyfriend. Justine is grateful for the contribution they had in getting Melonaire Juice up and running. No one discouraged her more than herself. Her support system around her encouraged her to keep going and follow through to see where she could take Melonaire Juice. Justine’s boyfriend, Matt, was very supportive from the beginning and really pushed for Justine to sell her melon juice. Matt is African American, and Justine always wondered if people outside of the Filipino culture would think the melon juice, shredded cantaloupe, and square jellies was a weird combo, but he loved it. He also brought some of the juice for his family to try and they loved it as well. It brought Justine comfort knowing that other people that didn’t grow up on the drink enjoyed it and encouraged her to sell it to the public.

“I know ultimately I have the last word, but for the type of person I am and how anxious I can get, I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to have my loved ones support me,” Justine said humbly.

So, after a lot of back and forth, Justine decided to launch Melonaire Juice and drop a pre-order date. She began advertising her juice on social media, using the photos she previously took at a park. The photo shows the mason jar dripping with cold streaks of water, the orange tint of the juice pairing well against the blue logo. This photo screamed “refreshing,” and as the Bay Area went through a heatwave, it definitely caught people’s eye and attention. Justine’s closest friends shared her content on Instagram, helping spread the word that she was selling cantaloupe juice. Even though her friend group is pretty tight knit and they were each other’s main crew, each friend still had other friends and followers that could branch out the business. She was happy that just a simple post share on their stories could bring in friends of friends.

When Justine dropped the pre-order date, she anxiously waited to see if people would reach out and order. She admits that she set the bar very low for herself because she didn’t want to be disappointed, knowing that this would be her first go around with only her friends knowing and sharing her content. She expected things to be slow initially because everything would be by word of mouth. Justine thought that if she could sell 10 jars on her launch date, she would be very grateful. To her surprise, she exceeded that number by a great deal. Justine couldn’t believe it, and saying she was grateful for the overwhelming support she got from her friends and family was an understatement. She made her round of drop off’s that weekend, thanking everyone she knew personally, with a mask on and some distance, of course. Her orders from her first launch were mostly close friends and family, still, she knew that it could get bigger because each person posted it on their social media after receiving the juice. Little did she know, it was just a matter of time before she would get other customer traffic through her original customers.

After her first launch, Justine eagerly prepared herself for the second drop. To her surprise, she hit a road block she never expected to come by. Justine prepared herself for the change in numbers of people buying, knowing some weeks would be better than others, she prepared herself for people being late and not picking up their order due to schedule conflicts, she even prepared her kitchen and fridge situation, knowing it would get really crowded around pick up weekends. What she didn’t prepare for was a nationwide mason jar shortage one week after her first drop. Justine was baffled – a nationwide mason jar shortage?! She didn’t even know that could be a thing. But it was, and this was her new reality. Due to COVID, everyone was buying mason jars to pickle different items, and suddenly the once ready available mason jar was a hard item to come by. Justine went to different stores across the Bay Area, searching high and low on the internet, and ultimately deciding that she would most likely have to look for another container to house her melon juice.

It was a set back that Justine was really sad about. After all, she is the aesthetic queen. She had a vision for how her product would be packaged, and the second week of orders, that all had to change. She found herself scrambling to find a good alternative. At first, she thought about telling her customers that they can bring their own mason jars for her to fill, but that idea was quickly thrown out because of COVID. Justine wanted to make sure that she was keeping herself and other customers safe. Justine ended up settling for heavy duty deli containers, because it was about the same size as a mason jar, and could still be used after the drink was done. She laughed at the idea that her customers could get a 2 in 1 deal – Melonaire Juice and free tupperware. The packaging was a small hiccup that Justine had to get around, but once she found an alternative, she was back on social media advertising her next drop. She reassured her customers that the packaging changed due to a nationwide mason jar shortage, but the melon juice was still the same great taste.

With the container situation solved, Justine continued to promote Melonaire Juice. Her small business was doing well for being new and just starting up. Justine even started to get orders from people she didn’t know personally, proving that the Instagram promoting, with the help of her friends, was working. Still, she would get so anxious when she would post on her page saying she was taking pre-orders. It was a constant high and low feeling. Justine would be anxious to announce her next drop, and would fear that nobody would order. Once she would get some orders in, she would feel relieved and could finally breathe again. But that anxious dread would always return the next drop after, a cycle that kept repeating, putting her on a rollercoaster of anxiety. Because of this, she would try to prepare herself for orders declining and fluctuating depending on the weather, so she wouldn’t get disappointed.

Another road block she encountered was the pick up situation. Meloniare Juice offered pick up and drop off options to their customers. As Melonaire Juice reached customers that Justine didn’t know personally, she got a little concerned with giving out her address to strangers. Her mom felt the same way, and didn’t want others to know where they lived. Luckily, Justine’s house is close to a well-known park, and she would do pick ups from that location if she didn’t know a customer too well. Still, she is grateful for all the customers that she has had that she didn’t know personally, it’s just a matter of privacy and making her parents feel more comfortable with the business.

With the drops that she has done, she has found a routine that works for her and her schedule. Justine takes pride in giving her customers the freshest products, so she has a very particular system that she follows to ensure her customers are getting Melonaire Juice at its best. She will head to the store a day or two before pick up day, and carefully picks out the ripest cantaloupes available. And she always comes with the intent to be on the safe side, purchasing more in case any last minute orders come in. She does all the prep work the day of pick ups, and starts about 2 hours before the first pick up is scheduled, this way, the juice isn’t sitting in the fridge over night. The night before, Justine clears out her fridge, to make sure that there is enough room for all of her orders. And the heavy duty deli containers have proved to help with the space issue since they can be stacked on top of each other. Once Justine has all of the orders done, she stores them in the fridge, but switches them to the freezer the last 15-20 minutes before pick up so they are super chilled and ready to devour on a hot day. Justine provides a plastic for so all of that shredded cantaloupe and jellies don’t go to waste.

Justine likes to prep all orders the day of and hours before pick up so the cantaloupe is at its freshest. She does this so her customers can enjoy Melonaire Juice longer. It lasts in the fridge for about 3-4 days, and some customers have even reached out saying it was still good after 5 days. Still, she recommends that the melon juice be consumed within the first 3 days to get the freshest taste. The heavy duty deli containers definitely gives Justine the luxury to give Melonaire Juice in generous servings, so it will last more than 1 sitting. Especially on warm days, it is the perfect chilled snack to come home to.

But as time pushed on and the weather started changing, an ice cold refreshing juice wasn’t in high demand anymore. Justine had planned for this, and also worried about it before launching. She knew once Daly City and the Bay Area’s notorious fog and cold weather came around, that her small business would be affected. Melon juice is associated with warm weather, outdoor gatherings, and the summer time, her predictions were true, and she saw that less people were putting in orders as the fall came around. Cantaloupes were also going out of season, and even though they are sold year round, they are at their peak of flavor from June – August. Justine was hesitant on what to do next with Melonaire Juice.

“Since it was my first time starting a business, especially as a side hustle, I was kind of just feeling things out and seeing how people reacted to it,” Justine said. “But when I noticed that the weather had an effect on sales and also knowing it’s not really melon season, I was weighing out the pros and cons to seeing if I should take a break or not. I didn’t really have a plan to sell year round. I guess ideally that’s what I would want, but I also don’t mind taking a little break.”

Still, Justine was hesitant to go on a little hiatus. She didn’t want people to forget about Melonaire Juice since she wouldn’t be promoting it and posting about it as much. She knew that going on a break would likely be the case when fall and winter came, but she didn’t have a set plan on what to do. She didn’t want to lose engagement with followers and customers if she wasn’t selling. But ultimately, Justine made the decision to take a break and open up Melonaire Juice again when the weather permitted. It also gave her more time to brainstorm more ideas for her small business.

On her hiatus, Melonaire Juice did their first catering gig at Justine’s best friend’s COVID safe baby shower. The mama-to-be really wanted melon juice at her baby shower since everyone else would be turning up with alcohol. Justine was thrilled that her best friend wanted Melonaire Juice to cater, and wanted to fulfill her best friends wants and needs since a COVID baby shower with few friends wasn’t the ideal plan for a first time mom. The melon juice was a hit at the party, and guests started to pair it with their alcohol. Many people commented that the sweet cantaloupe juice was a great chase to go with their alcoholic beverage. This discovery gave Justine more ideas on how to promote her melon juice, and opened the doors to more opportunities aside from personal individual sized packaging. Since then, Justine has been thinking of the catering route for parties, events, and other social gatherings.

Justine’s goal for Melonaire Juice is to continue to grow the business. Since discovering that the melon juice pairs well with alcohol from the COVID safe baby shower, she has been entertaining the idea of catering once COVID calms down and more parties and gatherings are taking place. She still has to figure out small things like the container which she will transport the melon juice in for parties, but she’s excited to see what Melonaire Juice will evolve into in 2021. She also wants to experiment with pop-up sales at local parks when the weather permits. Justine’s goal is to open Melonaire Juice back up at the end of February, when warmer weather is expected to make its appearance back in the Bay Area. Customers can expect to see Justine and her famous cantaloupe juice at packed parks like Dolores Park, Gellert Park, and other picnic areas.

Justine’s advice to other small business owners is to be open to the journey. She knows it’s a lot easier said than done from experience, but try not to focus on worrying too much about the outcome. She explains that starting your own business should be fun, and it’ll be something you’re proud of once you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Speaking up about your small business will help get the word around that you are selling and advertising a certain product. If those closest to you don’t know about your small business, how will others hear about it? Also, asking close friends and family to share and repost your content will really help bring in new customers.

Justine decided to start Melonaire Juice during Shelter in Place, a time where she, and many others, struggled with finding something that kept them occupied and brought them joy. COVID slowed down a lot of people’s work, and being cooped up in the house with restrictions was very gloomy. Justine always had the entrepreneurial mindset, but could never find the time to take it seriously because of her busy schedule. Suddenly, COVID gave her the opportunity to test the waters with a business venture she had given much thought to, but never thought of pursuing. She loves that she gets to pass on her family recipe that has brought her so much joy over the years. And even though she plans on having different variations and experimenting with flavors and toppings, she is content knowing that Melonaire Juice was inspired by the fun memories associated with her parents’ original melon juice.

“My work slowed down,” Justine said remembering how COVID and the Shelter in Place disrupted her life. “It gave me something else to do, focus on, put my energy into, and grow it into something I’m passionate about. And I’m excited for people to try it… Plus there’s also the emotional attachment to it, knowing it’s based off my parents’ recipe… I had the opportunity to put out a food item that brought my family together and would start conversations when they would bring it to events where there were people who weren’t familiar with this Filipino food. And also just rep the Filipino culture, I think that’s really dope.”

Kapwa Baking Company

Faye remembers it fondly – using a big fork to mash all the ripe bananas that were in a huge white plastic bowl her mom handed her. Smashing the bananas was Faye’s special job every time they made banana bread, and she was happy to do it. Her mother would eyeball the recipe, adding a splash of milk, mixing in flour and sugar, and somehow getting it perfect every time. Making banana bread with her mom are the earliest memories Faye has of baking. And now with her own children, Faye has passed down the banana smashing torch to them – remembering how excited she would get to help her mom in the kitchen.

Growing up, she had always watched both of her Lolas cooking, and her parents were pretty nifty in the kitchen as well. Faye has always felt like baking was always in the “background” of her life, and didn’t realize at the time how much baking meant to her. With time, Faye saw it clearly – baking was her passion that lit a fire in her soul. With the help of her husband, Ryan, and COVID, Kapwa Baking Co. was born. And now, Faye and Ryan are serving classic Filipino desserts, selling out almost every time, while balancing their full-time jobs and raising their 3 children.

It has been a journey to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where it is today. The business was formerly known as Bake Me Happy SF, but with the help of COVID, it took on a new look, menu, and name in 2020. Faye shares her small business’ story, but Kapwa Baking Co. is so much more than a business to her. It has been her dream for years, and her and her husband are finally laying down the foundation of their business. Her goal is still the same – to one day have a café or bakery where she serves her regulars their usuals, a place where the community can gather and enjoy her delicious food. This is why she named her business “Kapwa,” the Tagalog meaning for “community / neighbor.” She was 9 years old when she left the Philippines for the US, and the desserts she offers are some of her favorites that remind her of home.

“My family moved here when I was 9, so I was still pretty young,” Faye said. “But I was old enough to have some concrete memories from the time time I spent there. I admit, a lot of my memories revolve around food haha!”

Ironically, the baking dessert connoisseur’s dream growing up was to be a dentist. Faye’s mom had a dental practice in the Philippines, and for as long as she could remember, she wanted to be just like her mom. Faye wanted to make that dream come true, so she went to college to pursue being a dentist. At the time, she didn’t even think twice about baking and owning a business. She continued with her studies, but found herself spending every break – before and after school – in the Culinary Department’s library. Every time Faye stepped foot in a bookstore, she would go straight to the cookbook section. She wanted to learn more about everything and anything related to desserts and baking. And when she wasn’t reading about food and baking, she was watching it on the Food Network.

Faye knew that she probably loved baking more than the average person, but didn’t give it much thought, other than being a hobby she really enjoyed. Baking was a stress reliever for her during her high school and college days. Faye would bake cookies pretty consistently, and just give them away to her classmates in college. When she started becoming aware of her new found passion in baking, she still continued with her original plan – she never switched her major to pursue the culinary arts. Faye has no formal culinary or baking training – everything she has learned has been through cookbooks, Food Network shows, other cooking channels she would religiously keep up with on YouTube, and of course, trial and error. She is 100% self-taught and humbly acknowledges that she is learning new techniques and information everyday.

“I never really looked at the underlying interest I had in sweets and desserts,” Faye said reminiscing on her college days. “I spent a good chunk of my college life working towards a career that I thought was my dream. In the end, I finally realized that baking and creating fed my soul and that it was what I was most passionate about.”

So, Faye fed that passion when she could. She felt as though baking and creating desserts was just the natural path for her to take. Her very first official “order” came from her dad. He ordered a Shako chocolate cake. If you look it up, a Shako is a cylinder shaped military hat that has embellishments and pompoms and feathers coming out of the top. Faye’s dad took her to get all of her materials to make the Shako cake, and she felt a little overwhelmed. At that point, she had only worked with American buttercream. In the end, she completed the chocolate Shako cake – decorated with fondant, a Styrofoam feather pompom decorated with royal icing, and edible gold dust for the embellishments. This tough first order of hers really opened her eyes to all the different mediums she could use in her dessert making. She started researching all the different ways she could use edible decorations and mediums.

From there, Faye started baking cakes for her friends and family’s birthdays or for special occasions. And usually she would give the cake as a gift. With time, she started experimenting with cake pops, personalized sugar cookies, macarons, and other small desserts. Faye jokes that the time she spent in the Culinary Department’s library finally came in handy! But it wasn’t until she had her son that her business started to slowly take form, about 8 years ago. This is when dessert tables started to gain popularity for being the highlight of parties.

When Faye’s son had his 1st birthday, she wasn’t working at the time. They couldn’t really afford to pay someone to make the anticipated dessert table, so Faye put her baking skills to the test and made all the desserts herself. Friends started to ask about all the desserts that were at the party, so Faye gladly started to take orders. A couple years later, Faye and Ryan welcomed their daughter into the world, and that’s really when the ball started rolling. They started their first small business, Bake Me Happy SF, where Faye catered desserts for birthdays, parties, showers, weddings, and any occasion that required treats.

Kapwa Baking Co. has been an idea that Faye and Ryan sat on for some time, but never pursued. It wasn’t until they took a trip to Portland 3 years ago that re-sparked their interest in having a small business that they could one day have a physical location for. When they were in Portland, they were inspired by all the mom and pop shops that they saw. Still, Bake Me Happy SF was doing well, and they were content with what they were doing for the time being. That all changed when COVID hit. When one business fell through the cracks, another business was born.

Faye admits that COVID and the Shelter in Place orders were the catalyst for starting up Kapwa Baking Co. It was the push that the needed since a lot of events that Bake Me Happy SF had were canceled due to the pandemic. Faye and Ryan had no choice but to pivot their business. That’s when the couple decided that Bake Me Happy SF would change into Kapwa Baking Co. Faye closed down Bake Me Happy SF ‘s websites and Instagram account since she was no longer going to offer the same desserts as she used to. Faye was very hesitant when they were going to launch Kapwa Baking Co. because she didn’t know how her followers would receive it. Her dessert menu was completely new – serving classic Filipino desserts, and some with a new twist, like her Pastillas Milk Jams. Since these were products that were different from what Bake Me Happy SF was originally known for, there were some doubts about how successful the new menu and business would be.

“The first week of our launch, I was fully prepared to only receive 1 or 2 orders from family members because our first product was something completely new,” Faye said.

To their surprise, Kapwa Baking Co. launched successfully! They have only been in business for about 6.5 months, but have already received so much success and support. They consistently sell out of their items, and can get booked pretty quickly. The max amount of orders that Kapwa Baking Co. can take each week varies based on Faye’s work schedule. She works as an administrative assistant at an elementary school, and even though there are no kids present because of the pandemic, COVID has made the job more demanding. There are weeks where they sell out pretty quickly, and that can be due to the limited orders they can accommodate, and then there are weeks where they can take a lot more orders because her work load isn’t as bad. It really all depends from week to week.

Kapwa Baking Co.‘s menu includes: Pastillas Milk Jams, Ube Monster Bread Pudding, Ube Cheesecake Fudge Brownies, Ube White Chocolate Cookies, Cookies and Cream Bread Pudding, and their most popular item – the good ‘ol classic Pastillas. Pastillas are a milky sweet candy that’s very popular in the Philippines. The recipe Faye uses is the same recipe her sister taught her over 10 years ago. When her customers drive by to pick up their orders, their pastillas are soft and fresh. Around the holidays, Faye was selling out of their milk jams because people were buying them to give as gifts. And usually one person will order on behalf of other people like their coworkers, family, and friends, and Kapwa Baking Co. will be greeted with a hefty order. This isn’t something Faye and Ryan complain about, though. They are just happy and grateful that their products sell out and that a lot of people enjoy them.

It’s definitely a blessing to have your products be so popular and selling out very often. Because of the business’ success, Faye and Ryan are still trying to find the middle ground of balancing Kapwa Baking Co. , their 9-5 jobs, and spending time with their 3 children. COVID has brought its own level of craziness to her full-time job, so Faye does all the work for Kapwa Baking Co. after hours. It is chaotic to say the least, but Faye thanks Ryan for having her back, because without him she wouldn’t be able to manage it all. Their daughter has commented on how busy her parents have been, and how they aren’t spending as much time together. Because of this comment, Faye has made a point to have “break” weeks where they don’t take any orders so they can have quality time with their children. Thankfully, her two eldest children are very helpful and self-sufficient, and love to help their youngest sibling, so when it is time to get down to business, all hands are on deck.

And that is exactly what is needed on baking days. That is the most chaotic time of the week – when it’s time to make and bake all the orders that came through. Faye does prep work throughout the week, like measuring out ingredients, prepping packaging, and tiny steps that can be done ahead of time. But all the baking and food preparation are done the night before the pick ups / deliveries. It may get crazy, but Faye does it to make sure that her customers have the freshest products from their company. Faye handles all the bookings, communications, and baking, while her husband, Ryan, handles the packaging aesthetic and deliveries. They have been meaning to find a time where they can have official “business meetings” between the two, but haven’t had the time to pencil that in permanently yet. For now, the flow and balance that they have now is working well.

There are days when Faye feels discouraged, exhausted, and like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but it has never gotten to the point where she feels like throwing in the towel. Faye admits that there have been a handful of nights where there were some tears and a lot of frustration because things didn’t go as planned. She deals with it by letting herself feel the emotions, but letting it go after. Faye knows that for the time being, she has to hustle to get Kapwa Baking Co. to where they want it to be. There are days where her full-time job drains her and she is overwhelmed with her “to do” list, but she knows that this business has been her dream for a long time, so she has to push through those difficult days. This mentality is part of the reason why Kapwa Baking Co. is so successful.

Faye has also been successful when advertising her small business online. When they were planning to launch Kapwa Baking Co., Faye made an Instagram and Facebook account for the business. They have gained a lot of their followers through friends and family sharing their page and posts. Faye recognizes that this is why Kapwa Baking Co. has been so successful – because of the support of friends, family, and customers sharing their content online. Faye makes it a point to add a personal touch to what she posts on the business’ Instagram and Facebook page because she doesn’t want to just post their menus from week to week. She tries to switch it up and have that personal connection with those who interact with the business page.

The positive feedback that they have been getting from customers and those around them is what surprised the couple the most. The support that they get from other small businesses is very heartwarming and encouraging. That’s why Faye’s advice for other small business owners is to support one another. This builds connections and awareness of other small businesses, especially during a time where small businesses are most at risk. She believes that supporting other small businesses will shed light on what’s important – raising up the community, her “Kapwa.”

“We are also looking forward to working with many many other small businesses and doing our part in raising our kapwa business owners up,” Faye explained as she went into collabing with other businesses.

When Bake Me Happy SF turned into Kapwa Baking Co., they revamped their whole menu. Faye was inspired by her favorite desserts and foods that she ate when she was a kid living in the Philippines. Their very first product, Pastillas Milk Jams, were inspired by her favorite candy – pastillas. Instead of having the pastillas in candy / solid form, the Milk Jam can be served on top of bread, ice cream, or even by itself! Faye and Ryan do a lot of experimenting with flavors and testing their recipes. Taste testing is Ryan’s primary job, and though they let their kids in on the tasting fun, they are aware that anything sweet is good to them! So, they will sometimes ask friends and family to taste their new treats. For now, their dessert menu is centered around them taking their own spin on traditional Filipino desserts and food.

Faye laughs and says she wants her customers to know that she is “extremely shy and awkward.” She wonders if people at curbside pickup notice how “awkward” she can be, but wants people to know that despite her shy demeanor, she loves to meet new people! A lot of their customers are friends, or friends of friends, or somehow know a mutual connection, and Faye enjoys building friendships with those who buy from Kapwa Baking Co. There are times where she is very hard on herself, and is working on celebrating her own victories, since she loves to celebrate others’ victories.

Their goal for 2021 is to partner with more local businesses and possibly expand to Farmer’s Markets. Faye wants to dedicate more time to Kapwa Baking Co. so she can consistently take more orders. They are really hoping that opening a physical location will be in their cards somewhere down the line. It has been Faye and Ryan’s dream to one day open up a brick and mortar for their small business, and that’s where the conversation always leads to when they talk about their dreams and goals. Faye loves that she has her husband’s support through it all. She describes him as her #1 supporter, business partner, and all around helper. This is their dream, their goals are aligned, and they are keeping their eyes on the end goal.

“That’s always what it came down to – to own a place where people can come together, share their talents, and enjoy our treats,” Faye said. “A place where people came in as strangers and left as family, where we would know our customers by name and serve them their ‘usuals.’ We wanted a place where we could feature other small businesses and their hustles, hold open mics and art shows for local musicians and artists. Hence the name we chose… Kapwa.”