People handle stress and personal problems in different ways. I’ll never forget when I dropped blog post #10, where I shared my struggles with body dysmorphia and my weight. In the post, I touch on an old relationship that was ridiculously toxic and was essentially the catalyst of my eating disorder in high school. I remember posting it that night, and seeing the huge response it was getting. I was sitting in my traditional spot on the couch in the livingroom while my older sister sat in hers. Everyone was reposting me, the likes were skyrocketing, WordPress was notifying me that I was getting a lot of traffic all at once.
My utter shock to the support I was receiving made my older sister read what I had just posted. At that point, my little sister was reposting me from her room, quoting me directly from the blog. I awkwardly laid there, knowing that she was reading something that I never really shared in depth with others. It’s ironic that I felt awkward that she was reading something so personal, yet I published it online for the whole world to see. Sometimes I forget that aspect – that literally anyone could be reading this right now – it’s a weird but cool concept. By the end of it, she expressed her approval of the post.
She stood up and walked over to me, “Why didn’t you ever tell me, bitch?!” she said in tears, halfway laughing and half way pissed. We awkwardly hugged, an uncommon act in my family dynamic. My eyed welled up with tears.
My sisters and I are fairly close. So it was somewhat of a shock for her to read what I went through and not knowing the severity of it all. I struggled with self-esteem and my body for as long as I could remember, but reading it all laid out on the table like that was probably overwhelming for a loved one to read. Her older sister instincts kicked in, and she clung onto certain parts of my story. She was so bothered to learn that I had experienced disrespect to the point where I questioned my own value. I don’t remember what I responded to her accusatory statement, Why didn’t you ever tell me, bitch?! But we didn’t go too in depth as to why.
But the real reason why I didn’t open up about my struggles at the time? Shame. Embarrassment. Fear of being judged. Not wanting to involve family in my personal matters. But I think everything boils down to the fact that personally, I don’t know how to ask for help. Or better yet, I don’t know when to ask for help. When I finally ask for help or admit that I need help, I’m already drowning in the mess that I have helped create. I carry the burden until I am at my absolute breaking point, then in a panic, I will let others know that I’m in need of help. And I think a lot of people can relate to the fact that opening up about certain things to those around you, whether big or small, can be really difficult.
For me, my inner circle of friends and family know the gist of what’s going on in my life. I may not go into detail each time or tell every single story, but they can give you a little synopsis of what’s happening in my life. I’ve noticed too that I vent to different people for different things. Some I go to for life advice and worries, relationship woes, vent about friendships, family matters, work drama, hopes and dreams, etc. Some of these people know all the above, while some may just know about some of the topics listed. We all have our go to people to vent to, and we confide in different people depending on the matter at hand.
I think back to my middle school days or high school days where every single problem, fight, or situation was shared with my best friends and those closest to me. I can’t count how many detailed petty arguments and stories my friends have been through and told me about. And I can only imagine what they remember from what I used to share. I’m sure plenty can relate – when we’re younger, we tend to overshare, vent about everything, and ask for advice – maybe even too much advice. So much so that everyone else’s opinions helped weigh out what you were going to do. It was a group decision, rather than your own.
Now a days, I find myself just generalizing how everything is going, and if I’m really feeling saucy, I might give a couple of stories to back up my reasoning. It’s not that I don’t have time to update those around me anymore, I just find that the older I get, the more private I’m becoming. The irony since I literally post weekly blogs about my personal life and my views, but whatever. And I don’t mean to say that in a secretive way. I’m not hiding anything, and I still overshare a lot with my close friends, but not all things need to be shared all the time. Nobody has the time to be updating everyone on everything. The important things will come out, as well as the funny and small things if it’s relevant.
I have a really bad habit of isolating myself when I’m going through something stressful. There is literally no in between for me – it’s either I’m telling detail for detail, every story, every step of the way, or I say absolutely nothing about the matter until much time has passed. Even in my writing, I realized I write about things after the fact, when everything is said and done and over with already. It’s exactly what happened with my older sister. She couldn’t believe everything I had bottled up inside and dealt with alone. I tend to isolate when I’m so stressed out that venting out to someone seems like more work than relief. I’m so lazy that if I don’t tell you the very first thing in the story, I probably won’t say anything until it’s relevant because I don’t want to start from the beginning when too many things have accumulated to the present day.
When I find myself in a pickle, I turn to those closest to me for advice. When I really thought about it though, I don’t go to people for help. Instead, I go to them to vent, to be heard, to say how I really feel in the moment. I’m not necessarily expecting to be given an answer on what to do, I just want to let it all out. For me, I realized that as I get older, I bottle everything inside until I’m pushed to the edge and need to go on a venting rage. Only then will every single detail be shared and every story be told. I literally wait for the situation to fall apart or boil over to some extent before I notify anyone. And even then, I’m not asking for help, I’m just saying how I feel out loud.
When you’re venting, you want to express everything you’re feeling in the moment, you want to feel validated in your emotions, and you want to hear opposing thoughts and opinions. Usually after a good venting session, I leave the conversation feeling more calm and like my thoughts are clearer. Saying what’s bothering me out loud helps me sort things out in my head. It also makes it more real when you vent out loud. Almost every time, the person I’m venting to offers their wisdom and advice. Sometimes you need to hear your friends’ points of view to see the bigger picture. They know you pretty well and can help steer you back in the direction you need to go. And there are times where you need to hear the truth, no matter how hard it is to take.
I find it difficult to ask for help sometimes because I have the stubborn notion in my head that I need to deal with things on my own. I never want my personal problems to be someone else’s burden to carry because I know that nobody is responsible for me or my personal issues. My way of reaching out for help is venting. And even then, I’m not asking for help. I’m simply keeping those closest to me in the loop of what’s happening in my life. The advice comes naturally, and even though help was not outwardly asked for, it’s what’s given through words of affirmation. Sometimes it’s the advice you get from others that will actually help you help yourself.
I may not outwardly ask for help, but I’ll ironically be lowkey offended when my loved ones struggle in silence. Naturally, I want to be there for those I care about that are going through it. I want to be of assistance when I can be, and don’t want anyone to feel alone. Yet, there are times when I do exactly the same thing and isolate when the going gets tough. Sometimes we need to see ourselves through our loved ones eyes – they don’t want you to feel alone. It’s okay to ask for help, whichever way you express wanting that help. You don’t have to do figure out everything on your own.
This is story 10 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory
The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration started as an art project Kenneth did with his Lola (grandma) in 2014 when he moved back home to help care for her. She did the water color paintings and shared stories from her life and childhood in the Philippines, and he would draw on top of her paintings to accompany the stories and memories she told. He promised her that he would finish whatever she started. When Lola passed away in 2016, Kenneth felt so lost. He could barely touch the remaining paintings that Lola made, and at most got to 1 or 2 of them every year after she passed.
It wasn’t until the pandemic and shelter in place in 2020 that forced Kenneth to really evaluate what he wanted to do with his life. He took out all of Lola’s paintings and decided to keep his promise. 4 years after she passed, Kenneth was back and fully immersed in The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. Finishing the drawings turned into finishing writing her stories, which turned into the idea to turn her stories into a memoir and artbook, which led to Crescenciana. Now, Crescenciana, named after Lola, can be found in a handful of independent bookstores throughout the Bay Area and the east coast. The book is also available through their website: https://www.lolaxkenneth.com/crescenciana
It has been a wild ride, indeed. Kenneth takes a trip down memory lane with LoveYourzStory to start from the very beginning of The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. He had no idea that almost 8 years later, the project would transform into Cresenciana. For Kenneth, it’s more than their project being published into a book, it’s him and his Lola’s bond, love, and memories being forever a part of history. Lola is such an important person in his life, that it only made sense to do something in honor of her.
Lola helped raise Kenneth and his sister growing up since his mom was an overnight nurse. He comes from a line of strong women, being raised by his mother and Lola. Their relationship was so close that he considered Lola to be like another parent. There is a spectrum of “Lola energy,” but Kenneth knows he’s lucky to have had a very nurturing Lola. Her love was so overwhelmingly present in all stages of his life. He shares that he often thinks about what kind of person he would be without his Lola, and Kenneth is confident that he wouldn’t like any version of himself that wasn’t touched by Lola in some way. He credits his great characteristics to his mom and Lola raising him.
“My Lola taught me about love,” Kenneth shared. At this moment, birds began to chirp. “How to love and how to be loved… My Lola made me feel seen, just by loving me.”
The chirping was so loud, I had to interrupt and ask, “Kenneth, do you have a pet bird?” He didn’t. It was the birds chirping outside of his window as we conducted our interview over Zoom… at about 8 PM at night. The birds’ chirping were so overwhelmingly clear and audible that it sounded like it was straight from a movie when the main character wakes up to a beautiful day. The chirping began when Kenneth started talking about how much he loves his Lola and thanks her for shaping him into the man that he is today. I didn’t know what his views were, but I couldn’t help but blurt out, “I don’t know if you believe in signs–” “I do,” Kenneth said in disbelief. “Wow,” he said repeatedly, feeling emotional and believing that his Lola was with him in that exact moment. Her love transcends even after she has passed on. How beautiful it was to witness his Lola giving him confirmation and signs from the other side, letting her boy know that she was still around.
Lola taught Kenneth so much about love. He never asked to be loved, and she never made him feel like he was hard to love. Lola’s love was definitely unconditional. So much so that Kenneth wanted to be a better person and someone that is worthy of her love. They communicated in English, even though Lola’s original tongue was Ilocano. Lola’s English was pretty good, and Kenneth thanks her favorite shows, like jeopardy, for expanding her vocabulary. But Kenneth never felt like there was a language barrier with Lola, and didn’t feel like they could’ve been any closer had he learned how to speak Ilocano.
Like many first generation kids and their immigrant parents and grandparents, there is a generational gap in showing affection towards one another. Lola was the master of unspoken love. She didn’t have to explain herself verbally, she just radiated her love for those around her. On Kenneth’s end, he was the opposite. He always knew that with her age, it’s inevitable that time is limited, so he would over do the “I love you’s,” saying it every time he left the room while giving her a sweet kiss on the forehead. “Me too,” Lola would say, never saying the words back. When she was feeling sassy, his “I love you’s” were returned with, “I know.” Kenneth laughs at the lack of verbal affection, but knows that their way of saying “I love you” or “I’m sorry” came in different way like cutting him up fruit, or other acts of service.
After graduating from college, Kenneth had a tough time finding a job in the Bay Area. The post-grad blues were hitting him hard, especially since it seemed like his peers were all landing jobs and moving forward with their lives. He grew up on the notion that if you go to school, you get a job immediately after, and since it didn’t happen that way, Kenneth was growing frustrated. He decided that a change of scenery was necessary and decided to move to Southern California to live with his sister. It was still hard for him to find a job, but with some time, finally landed a job in LA.
“I was a Bangos (Milk fish) out of water,” he told me when describing how LA was treating him.
Southern California was so different from the Bay Area, Kenneth felt completely out of his element. He was living in SoCal for a little less than a year when he got the phone call from his mom. She let him know that she was getting knee surgery. Kenneth volunteered to move back home and help out with caring for Lola. Even before her call, Kenneth was already on the fence about moving back home. He was extremely homesick, knew Lola was getting older, and his contract at his job was coming to an end. When his mom called with the news, he felt as though the “stars aligned” for him to come back. Lola had a heart condition and had a fall back when he was still in school, so she was walker and wheelchair bound. But Kenneth admits that if his mom didn’t get knee surgery, he would’ve returned home not too long after. SoCal just wasn’t the place for him and he wanted to be back home – and home was wherever mom and Lola were.
Kenneth was back in his element when he moved back to San Jose in 2014. He gives all credit to his mom for being Lola’s #1 caregiver, and him coming in at #2. Mom still worked, so when she worked, Kenneth would be with Lola. Quickly, they came up with a daily routine. In the morning, Kenneth would use a wet warm towel to get out the eye mucus out of Lola’s eyes, he’d assist her in the restroom, and then they’d be off to breakfast. Lola would always ask for “something good,” which usually meant something sweet or dessert-like. Medicine would be after, then they’d paint, and spend the rest of the day watching Netflix. She loved her mystery shows and anything with a strong woman character. Once a week, they would do exercises with 2 pound weights, and even did Lola-friendly baseball and basketball! He would pitch crumpled pieces of paper and Lola would try to swing. During this time, the Golden State Warriors were killin’ it as well, so they would use a basket and see how many shots she could make out of 10.
Kenneth enjoyed his time with Lola, but there were still some low points that were happening at the same time. It seemed that every time he went on social media, he was bombarded with his peers’ accomplishments – getting jobs, falling in love, getting engaged, getting married, having new cars, and so on. All of these accomplishments seemed so far off from what he was doing. It made him feel like he was behind or not on the right path because he wasn’t hitting the same milestones. His worries manifested physically with shaky hands, feeling lightheaded, lips going numb, so much so that he called an advice nurse that let him know that it all boiled down to stress. It took him a while, but he soon realized that social media only shows you people’s highlights in their lives, when in fact, a lot of people feel the same way and are on the same boat.
Even though Kenneth was conflicted about his place in life, he still wouldn’t change anything about helping care for Lola. He valued his time with her so much, and if anything, wishes he had more time with her. He found comfort in knowing that he wasn’t missing out on anything, because the best gift there is is the gift of time. Kenneth admits that he never confided in Lola about his stress or feelings of being behind in life because he didn’t want to worry her with his struggles. Instead, he would have “me time” when him and his mom switched off from watching Lola. In that time, he would do things like take hip hop classes over the weekend or just hangout. Kenneth and his mom were really good at switching off and giving each other breaks. Lola was their life, and they wouldn’t want to have it any other way.
When Kenneth was little, he was known as the kid in the class that liked to draw. His mom once asked him what he wanted to do when he grows up, and Kenneth let his mom know that he wanted to draw comic books. His mom brushed off his hobby as something he could do for fun on the side, so Kenneth didn’t really think to take drawing seriously as a profession since it wasn’t an option as a kid. So, he continued to draw for fun. The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration started because of Kenneth’s artistic interests.
The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration first started in 2014 when Kenneth was trying to raise money to get a chair lift for Lola. The only bathroom in their home was on the 2nd floor, making it really difficult to get Lola up and down the stairs. He describes it as a “whole production” on bath days. Kenneth thought it would be a good idea draw and sell their prints, in hopes to raise enough money to get the necessary equipment to care for Lola. When people started to buy the prints, Lola would tell Kenneth, “Use the money for you.” That was just her personality – always looking out for him and being as selfless as can be. This is why Kenneth wanted to do The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration, because he wanted to do something for her. They never raised enough money for the chair lift, but it was the start of The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. Kenneth lightheartedly laughs and adds that the first 2 years of the project, they might’ve even lost money trying to make money.
When Kenneth looks back, he realizes now that Lola has always been a storyteller. Back then, her stories sounded more like fairytales to be age appropriate for the things he was asking. He didn’t realize until he was a little older that all the fairytales she was sharing wasn’t just made up, but her real lived experiences. Kenneth remembers being a little boy and asking Lola, “Where is Lolo?” “He’s on vacation,” she would tell him tenderly. It wasn’t until he had to record Lola’s interview for a class documenting her immigration story that he learned the truth of his Lolo. After World War II, Lolo was most likely suffering from PTSD. He was paranoid that Japanese soldiers were going to attack him, and he carried a lot of trauma from the war. Lolo was Chinese and originally from China, so his family sent him back to try to get some help and recover. Lola never heard from him again.
Lola would share stories about what it was like to grow up during World War II, being occupied by the Japanese. These stories still captivate Kenneth, and he often asks himself, “What was Lola doing when she was my age?” His favorite story that he’ll always remember is when Lola shared that she went to a secret dance. It was during Word War II, Japan occupied the Philippines and took over her village. She was young and just wanted to have a good time and dance. Lola caught a ride to the next town over for a secret dance where she could freely tango and 2-step as she pleased. Next thing she knew, someone was saying that the soldiers were coming. Suddenly, everyone scrammed, running as fast as they could to not get caught. Lola jumped in the back of a cart and hoped it was going in the direction of her town. In all the chaos, she lost an earring, but managed to get back to the village where she washed her shoes in the middle of the night. That story holds such a special place in Kenneth’s heart because it showed her daring personality when she was young, and how not even a war could stop Lola from dancing!
Lola was full of stories. He remembers when he was in his 1st semester of college, he come home to San Jose to visit. Like most students, he brought back work that he could work on when he had downtime. Kenneth was trying to read a book on the couch, but found it really hard to focus. Lola was next to him and was non-stop talking, so he was rereading the same sentence over and over again. He knew he wasn’t going to get any reading done and closed the book with a sigh. He wasn’t trying to be rude, but he knew that the likelihood of getting any productive reading done was impossible with Lola talking his ear off.
“I’m so sorry,” Lola laughed as she covered her mouth. She was thoroughly entertained. “I’m just so happy to have someone to speak with.”
That definitely pulled at Kenneth’s heart strings, and that stuck with him. He put his book away and gave Lola his undivided attention. He made it a point to be present and listen whenever he visited home during college. It was important to him that Lola knew that he was there and listening. And when she wasn’t telling stories, Lola was trying to beat him in whatever game she could. She was a huge fan of games, especially cards and Chinese checkers. Lola was as competitive as a lola could be and loved to win. When she had a feeling that Kenneth was going easy on her and trying to let her win, she would tell him to play again so she could beat him fair and square. But Kenneth admits that even if he really tried, he probably couldn’t beat her anyways. She was just that good.
Painting came to the grandma and grandson organically. The idea to turn Lola’s memories into a book was never preplanned. One day, Kenneth asked Lola what she wanted to do that day, in other words, what did she want to watch on Netflix. To his surprise, Lola shared that she wanted to do something “with a purpose.” Jumping off of that, Kenneth and Lola started a family tree. She drew a huge tree and wrote down all the family members’ names that she could remember. Then Kenneth saw in the newspaper seniors doing art therapy. He didn’t know what that meant, and honestly didn’t even do any research on it, but he thought it was a good idea. One summer break when he was still in college, he tried to get Lola to paint on canvas, to which she didn’t show much interest in. This time around, she was open to the idea of painting with watercolor. Kenneth loved that this activity got Lola talking, because throughout their usual routine, it could get pretty quiet with just Netflix playing.
Lola would start the paintings, and Kenneth would draw on top of them to reflect the stories she told while in the zone. There were times when she would just start talking on her own, being very talkative and detailed. When they got deeper into the project, Kenneth would ask questions and poke around more. In one sitting, Lola would make about 4 to 8 paintings, while Kenneth trailed behind her trying to keep up. He laughs that Lola probably thought he was really slow in matching her productivity. The paintings that he drew on top of while they worked at the kitchen table together are more directly correlated to what she was saying in her stories. It was really convenient to ask Lola in the moment what she was trying to paint. It gave him the opportunity to ask more questions about her story. They collaborated side by side for 2 years, always asking the questions, “What are we going to make?” and “What were you painting here?” for clarification.
When Lola passed away unexpectedly in 2016, Kenneth’s world fell into a million different pieces. He felt so lost, confused, and didn’t know how to move forward with her gone. Even though Lola was in her 90’s, Kenneth never pictured what life would be like without her. Even now, 6 years later, Kenneth still finds it hard to talk about her in the past tense. When she had just passed, he found it interesting how people were so quick to refer to her in the past tense. He really appreciated a friend who wrote him a card speaking about Lola in the present tense, because it’s what he needed at the time. He was grieving the loss of Lola and trying to figure out his own life now that he was no longer caring for her.
Feeling lost was an understatement. He felt the same way he did when he first graduated college and tried to find a job. Only this time, it was worse – he was older, out of college for some time, and would have to apply to entry level positions. Kenneth felt as though he couldn’t do anything because the lack of experience he had, but now looking back, he realizes that he could’ve done essentially anything. He put so much pressure on himself to find his calling in life, but up until that point, Lola was his life. From 2016 to 2020, he did odd jobs here and there to test out the waters in different fields.
Kenneth was still doing The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration on the side after Lola passed, but it was really hard for him to fully dive into it again. When she passed in 2016, Kenneth could only manage to complete 1 to 2 of her paintings a year. Collaborating next to each other in person to doing it solo was too hard for Kenneth to come to terms with. That all changed when the pandemic hit in early 2020. The pandemic played a crucial role in the making of Crescenciana. Kenneth had no choice but to shelter in place. He was cooped up in the house with nothing to do and decided to take out all of Lola’s paintings.
“Okay, this is it,” he told himself. “This is the time. I’m going to finish everything we started, Lola, we’re going to finish this.”
From 2020 to 2021, Kenneth was focused on completing all of Lola’s paintings. This time around, drawing on Lola’s paintings were more complex – it was more like a puzzle, almost like a guessing game. He had all of her unfinished paintings and had to guess which stories matched with which paintings. There are over 80 drawings in the book, but not all of the originals are drawn on. Kenneth decided to switch to digital drawing so he could preserve her original paintings. In a way, he switched to digital because he didn’t want the collaboration to end. If he were to draw on all of her paintings, that would be it. But digitally meant that there is no end, it could go on forever.
“We will always have work to do,” Kenneth said when asked about The Lola x Kenneth Collaboration. “I’ll always be grieving for her.”
He decided to publish Crescenciana because he wanted to preserve the stories of his Lola’s life. Kenneth wanted to make sure that he doesn’t have to rely solely on his memory to remember the stories she had once shared with him in person. He pictures the time in his Lola’s life, before he was even born, when she worked at a department store. Her job was to fold the clothes in the fitting rooms. Of course, Lola was happy to have an income, but Kenneth can’t help but think of all the people that might’ve passed by her in the store and treated her like she was invisible, just help, and not anyone important. It killed him to know that there might’ve been people that just looked at her as nothing more than just a worker who folded clothes, because she meant the absolute world to him. Writing and publishing Crescenciana is Kenneth’s way of making Lola feel seen and heard, they way she always made him feel.
So with that, Kenneth self-published in October 2021. He knew the self-publishing route was the road less traveled, but he wanted a say in every part of the book. The whole process was a constant reminder to him that Lola is still present. Kenneth wants people to know that Crescenciana happened organically – just a grandson expressing his love and gratitude for his Lola. It warms his heart to receive messages from readers saying how much they can relate, how they feel heard, and how the book was a starting point to ask their elders about their stories. He once heard his mom talking about Crescenciana on the phone with someone, stating that their story is not unique or “anything special.” Their family was not the only family to suffer or live the way they did – and that’s what makes it all the more beautiful – that many people can relate. Kenneth wants his readers to see themselves in Crescenciana, and wants others to feel seen and heard as well.
“Her story needs to live and breathe, and I want to make sure of that.” Kenneth said.
“This is story 8 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Jayna’s story, written in her own words:
“If you were to ask me how motherhood looked like for me 2 years ago, I would’ve said, ‘well, breast-pumping sucks, I’m tired af, and the constant questioning of, ‘when does this get easier?’ crosses my mind as many times as I breathe in a day.’ Today, Motherhood for me still looks like all of the above minus the breast pumping. Truthfully, parenting is hard and if you are a parent, I know I don’t need to tell you that. But for me, navigating through my current life as a ‘stay-at-home mom’ these past 2 years has met me with so many internal challenges of self-doubt and anxiety/depression that I never expected to go through as a mom.
Ultimately, being faced with the adversities of motherhood has guided me to the start of my own self-discovery and healing journey to continuously work on becoming the best person and mom I can be for my son, Cade. While I speak from my own personal experience, I do believe it is 100% a full-time job to learn how to raise a child that requires your undivided love and attention, all while pretty much still raising yourself and learning who you are as an individual.
Being a mom has brought me the awareness I never knew I needed to learn. And it helped uncover my personal triggers and consciously build my awareness to not ‘take it out’ on my child when he decided that his lunch looks better thrown all over the floor or when he decided to happily jump on my bed while unknowingly smearing a poop-filled diaper onto my bed sheets (true story). But you’re telling me, moms don’t get paid for this? Just kidding…
At my most vulnerable state, there are lots of days when I don’t feel like being a mom, doing mom duties, or just having my mind consumed with anything and every little thing involving my son, only then to ask myself at the end of the day, ‘Am I doing enough? Am I a good mom?’ These thoughts still make me feel incredibly guilty at times but I’ve learned to accept that they’re completely normal to have and not every day or even half the days as a parent will go as we expect it to.
I think the feeling of me ‘not wanting to be a mom’ at times comes from a combination of the mental exhaustion I feel from being a stay-at-home mom, as well as my personal issues with anxiety and depression. When I think back to my life before becoming a mom, I always dealt with bouts of anxiety and depression from the time I was 12 years old to my earliest knowledge. It can feel ten times more overwhelming for present-day-me to internally work through my mental health struggles while caring for a toddler and being a safe space for his own emotions as well.
Cade is extremely clingy to me (I’m his one and only caretaker for the majority of the day until David gets home from work) and I find myself getting overwhelmingly frustrated, stressed out, and helpless trying to figure out his growing needs and tantrums. However, what this shows me is that for me to readily meet my child with love, patience, and understanding, it requires me to always hold love, patience, and understanding with myself first and foremost.
My personal struggle of trying to have everything figured out as a new mom and actively raising my son added to the pressure of having yet to establish my career. It is definitely the hardest battle I go through daily. Society has its way of making you feel like what you’re doing isn’t enough whether you’re a parent or not. And everyone seems to have an opinion/judgment on your life like they know what’s best for you. I personally struggle at times with feeling like I need to prove myself to others in my life to deserve acceptance as if what I do as a stay-at-home mom isn’t enough.
I hold strongly to the belief that a person can’t meet you somewhere where they’ve never been. In other words, a person can’t begin to understand you without judgment if they haven’t been close to being in your shoes. It’s no one’s place to judge anyone but people will be people and that’s something I have no control over.
Nonetheless, I fully recognize that it’s a blessing to be able to be a stay-at-home mom over the past two years, and I never take that for granted. But just like any job, it comes with stress, hardship, and a whole lot of mental and emotional battles that an outsider wouldn’t see, let alone someone that hasn’t spent a day in their life raising a child. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that sure as hell doesn’t mean they know a fraction of what’s best for you or even understand what you go through. I remind myself daily that the only opinion that truly matters at the end of the day is the one that I hold of myself.
Before becoming a mom, I never self-reflected or took the time to learn about my anxiety and depression. From having an unexpected C-section, to adjusting to life as a new mom with new responsibilities, to having little emotional and physical support during this challenging time, made it clear as ever to me that I needed to start taking care of myself. And for the first time in my life, stop internalizing all of my emotions and pain. My anxiety and depression will always be a part of my life but I’m on a life-long journey to consistently cope in healthy and healing ways.
I truly never prioritized my mental health or even understood what ‘mental health’ means. Because of this, I always felt anxious and worried that I’m not a ‘good mom.’ Cade just turned 2 years old and I still struggle with that feeling. But I understand now that I’m in control of my thoughts and feelings. I still get anxious, but I’ve learned to let my worries go instead of clinging onto them and letting them multiply.
I’ll always experience hard days where my anxiety will tell me that I must be doing something wrong, but what’s important is how I don’t allow myself to get stuck in that narrative because it’s simply not true. One way I do this is to ‘fill my cup first’ by doing things that support my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. This is so I feel more able to approach whatever kind of day my son is having with that patience, love, and understanding – because I’ve taken care of myself first.
An easy thing I like to do, that takes less than 5 minutes each morning, is to set my day with an intention before I even get out of bed – especially on those hard days when I ‘don’t feel like being a mom.’ I’ll take a minute to stretch, take a few deep belly breaths(life-changing and I highly recommend it if you struggle with anxiety), and I’ll repeatedly tell myself something as simple as, ‘I am patient. I am strong. I am the best mom to my son.’ Some days I’ll get lazy or forget to do this and I’ve just started to appreciate the impactful difference it makes in my mood and how I handle Cade’s hundred waves of moods.
I never truly felt like I ‘found myself’ before becoming a mom, so now I feel like I’m still finding and trying to be who I want to become while still becoming the mom I want to be. The most challenging part of this is simply taking the time and effort to do the things that I want to do and prioritizing my self-care. For me, that’s giving myself permission to let go of any ‘mom guilt’ or worry I may have and literally just do whatever it is I want to do in that moment without Cade and enjoy every minute of a much deserved ‘break.’ Some days this looks like taking a walk by myself and catching up on Jay Shetty’s latest podcast episode, or learning to sit with and address toxic thoughts, and other days it’s just eating Samyang spicy ramen noodles in peace without having to try to explain to a screaming toddler why he can’t have any or else his mouth is going to have a ‘booboo.’
While I currently don’t have my career established like others might, I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be in this present time and that’s with my son. Anyone can be a parent, but to be a parent that also recognizes there is so much more to it than just providing the basic necessities to survive is hard work. Becoming a mom sort of forced me into a deep self-reflection of how I was raised and conditioned to be as an adult. It’s a daily choice and effort I have to make to consciously learn how to reparent myself and break generational trauma to parent Cade in a way where he grows up knowing that his feelings are valid, important, and respected.
There’s always going to be that feeling of ‘pressure’ to have my ‘life together’ according to societal norms. But right now, I’m at peace with all that I’m doing- working on my self-development and prioritizing my mental health while being a stay-at-home mom raising a toddler. As long as I know I’m flourishing in that part of my life, I’m confident that I will ‘figure everything else out’ in due time and on my own time. It gets hard to not feel anxious about what the future holds for me, but that’s when I try to push myself to see the good in my life – practicing gratitude for everything in my life presently and focusing less on what it’s not or what it could be.
I really don’t have this all figured out, and maybe I never will. But motherhood to me will remain a journey presented with unraveling lessons, and Cade being a reminder of my self-growth, healing, and development. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, working mom, or both, what you’re doing is enough and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There is no such thing as a perfect parent but I truly feel the best thing we can provide to our kids is the life-long journey of healing ourselves and allowing ourselves to become better individuals as our kids will become exactly who and what we model to them.
The most important thing for me to teach Cade is to be kind and loving to himself and others. I want him to live each day intentionally grounded by respect, compassion, honesty, and nothing short of his true authentic self. Additionally, I want him to grow up knowing that every single feeling/emotion he experiences at any time in his life is 100% valid. Seeing Cade grow more and more every day and become a tiny little person will always be a blessing. But the best part of motherhood for me currently would be the new perspective it’s given me on myself, my life, and who I want to be for my child. As well as the life and lessons I want to be able to give him outside of material things.
If I could give pre-Cade Jayna any advice, I’d tell her this:
Please don’t ever give up on healing yourself to become the person you’ve always needed. And love yourself before loving anyone else.” -Jayna
“Story 5 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,Iwanted to hearyour 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 afterall, who can tell their story better than them?”-Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory
This is Rohit’s story, written in his own words:
“My Weight Gain & Loss Story
I always loved Shōnen stories when I was a kid. For the uninitiated, Shōnen is one of the most popular genres of anime, typically featuring a male protagonist who embarks on an adventure filled with challenges. My first exposure to the genre came through Pokémon, which I’d obsessively wake up to watch on Saturday mornings throughout my childhood. Looking back, my fascination with Pokémon and similar shows stemmed from the main character’s relentless pursuit of a goal or self-perfection, the clear distinction between good and evil, and the excitement that follows exploring the world around us. Unfortunately, Pokémon is where my issues with body positivity likely started. And it’s exactly what you’re thinking – the exposure to extremely skinny, fit male figures in Pokémon and other shows unconsciously shaped my mental model of what constitutes beautiful and attractive, and has been something I’ve worked my entire life to overcome.
I hope that in sharing my story, others struggling with similar issues can understand that they’re not alone and appreciate that self-love is one of the most beautiful aspects of the human condition. While progress in most things in life is usually not linear, the setbacks, insecurities, and painful feelings I experienced through my weight gain, weight loss, muscle gain, and muscle loss make me who I am today and I’m thankful for them.
Having a body-positive self-image has never been a strength of mine. At 26 years old I am still struggling with low self-esteem due to ingrained beliefs around what my body should look like. I became painfully aware of my body and how others perceive it in middle school when my peers began making jokes about how fat I was, saying things like “When you walk around, it can cause earthquakes!” At that point in time I likely weighed 140 pounds and was 5’7”. Despite being relatively tall for my age, there was no hiding it. You might be wondering, “How did he get to that point?” My relationship with food was extremely unhealthy. Even as early as elementary school, I remember chowing down on McDonald’s and Burger King chicken sandwiches that my loving mother would drop off for me on weekdays. It didn’t matter if I got a bad grade on my math test, was bullied in school, or felt alone, because I knew I always had food to comfort me. And like most kids at that age with immigrant parents, I needed a lot of comforting. Over time I developed an addiction to fried, fast food and probably played a big role in keeping my local Olive Garden and Burger King alive.
Whenever I’d see family or family friends they’d be quick to point out how chubby I was. “You’ve got such big cheeks!” and “Did you gain weight?” were usually the first thing they’d say to me whenever they visited. Over time the embarrassment grew to such an extreme level that I’d instinctively run upstairs to my room whenever someone rang the doorbell. My parents chalked that up to my shyness and introverted-ness, but looking back it was largely because I hated how people would comment on my weight, and I’d rather just avoid social interaction altogether. Video games and TV shows didn’t make me feel bad about myself. My mother would typically reassure me saying that having big bones runs in the family, it’s just temporary, and not to worry about it. I definitely worried about it.
When middle school came around and the harmful jokes and comments abounded, I realized that I could use humor as a deflection – by being silly and ridiculous in and outside of class, I hoped that the attention would be taken off my weight, even just for a moment. Sadly, even my most fire jokes couldn’t spare me from the almost daily humiliation that was PE class. I distinctly remember being the slowest person in the entire class to run a mile – I never made it under 10 minutes! And scoring low on other fitness-related exams, reinforcing my belief that I’m worse than others and something is wrong with my body.
After years of enduring hurtful jokes and comments in addition to seeing idealized images of men’s bodies in movies and TV, I became disgusted with my body. I would actively avoid going swimming – which was hard when the pool party was at your house – because it would expose my rotundness. I would look at myself whenever I would change in the mirror with shame, and dress in baggy clothing to distract people from the shape of my body. Compounding this internalized shame and resentment is my lifelong struggle with perfectionism, thinking that the way I looked should be a certain way and, in my mind, I always fell short.
When I made it to high school, already disgusted with my body, I became committed to changing the body that brought me so much pain. Thankfully, I channeled my frustration and angst into my weight loss regiment. It took many months and a lot of discipline, healthy eating, and exercise, but I was able to lose twenty pounds during my Sophomore year and started to take pride in how I looked for the first time. This is where my story maybe takes a turn from others in the body positive community – part of me is glad that growing up I had a negative body image. If I didn’t, and simply accepted myself for how I looked, I probably would never have adopted healthier eating and lifestyle habits and would’ve continued spiraling down a path of fried chicken nuggets and scrumptious curly fries. For me personally, being overweight wasn’t difficult just because in society’s eyes something was wrong with me, but more so because I felt unhealthy – moderate exercise really exhausted me and I’d often have jolts of pain that felt like the beginning of clogged arteries even though I didn’t know it at the time.
It might seem fun to eat unhealthy food frequently, and maybe it is in the short-term, but there’s a lot of pain and difficulties that can easily outweigh (yes, pun intended) the ephemeral joy. Over time, as I slowly adjusted my diet to stop feeling so unhealthy my relationship with food improved and I no longer relied on it for comfort. That process was really difficult and I had to unlearn the bad habits and dependencies I developed over the span of many years. For those of you contemplating a similar transition my advice is to start small, slowly replacing processed fats and sugar with natural fats and sugar from food that you enjoy eating such that over time your body finds unhealthy food undesirable, which is exactly what happened with me. I eventually reached a point where eating fried and processed food felt nasty and I avoided it at all costs. To this day I actively resist eating fried or fast food and stick to a diet high in vegetables & fruit, high protein, and low carb. After improving my diet and losing even more weight, I vowed to never be fat again and to treat my body like a temple. Unfortunately, even as the weight gradually began to disappear the insecurity I developed around my body image did not. No matter how much weight I lost or how my body began to look, I kept feeling that I didn’t look good enough and didn’t live up to the expectations society had of me.
These insecurities later manifested in college. I can barely recall my junior year and it wasn’t because I was sleep deprived. Enabled by the fraternity I joined and the almost manipulative drinking culture, I would binge drink and blackout several times a week. Sure, it was lots of fun in the moment and to this day I don’t really regret those decisions, but the proverbial beer belly reared its ugly head. My breaking point occurred when a close female friend casually remarked one day that I was looking chubby and need to lose weight. I felt that all the progress I had made with accepting my reformed body image and vowing to never be fat again vanished all within a single instant. Just like in high school, I decided to channel my anger and frustration at myself into self-improvement and started working out religiously. In parallel, I also gave up eating meat cold turkey as I strongly believed that all of life is interconnected and must be respected. By the time senior year ended, I had lost the beer belly I was so ashamed of and started to build lean muscle thanks to transitioning to a low carb / high protein vegetarian diet and hitting the gym at least 4 times a week. My relationship with food had completely transformed and I actively sought out healthier options that made me feel better and supported my more active lifestyle. Things were finally looking up and I never wanted to look back.
Fast forward a few years and I was back home in San Jose working at a startup with ample free time. Of course I’d continued working out frequently, finding deep satisfaction in pushing myself physically and lifting even heavier weights. I’d often get sore or experience weird muscle pains that led to short breaks and ice baths, but I’d just get back up and keep pushing harder – partly motivated by my body-related insecurities, never feeling satisfied with how I looked despite putting on more muscle, and realizing that women found me attractive. That all came to a halt on a beautiful summer day in Yosemite. A few weeks prior my college roommates and I planned a trip to Yosemite to take on the notorious Half Dome hike which claimed several lives and caused hundreds of accidents in the past fifteen years. The hike itself wasn’t too crazy – 17 miles roundtrip with 4,800 feet of elevation gain, fairly do-able for folks like me who hike regularly and like to push themselves. Our initial plan was to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to start the trek to beat the rising heat and crowds of people that flock to the trail each year, but we encountered a ton of traffic on the route there and ended up reaching camp near midnight. Faced with a difficult decision of sleeping for three hours before embarking or hitting the trail immediately with no rest, we chose to test our luck and hike in pitch darkness with no rest. Hindsight is always 20/20 and this case is no different. Two of my friends injured their feet landing on rocks at weird angles due to the low visibility, but despite the injuries and exhaustion we all pushed forward.
I’m thankful that we successfully traversed the treacherous cables and reached the summit, taking in the magnificent views. But the trouble started after we went back to camp, ate our weight in pizza, and passed out for the night. I woke up to a strange sensation and hoped it was a dream. I couldn’t move my neck. In that moment I was filled with sheer terror; would I ever be able to move my neck again? Did I have a permanent disability? What did I do to myself? Why did I push myself to the extreme? After pounding Motrin and surviving the car ride back home, I shared my experience with my physician who immediately recommended I get scanned by an MRI machine to figure out what the heck was going on. While that experience itself was torture having suffered from claustrophobia my entire life – imagine being stuck in a metal coffin with no space around you bombarded with shitty EDM sounds – receiving the results was more painful. I had somehow managed to herniate a disc in my cervical spine (my neck), and the damage would never be undone. There was no treatment beyond medicating the pain away and some physical therapy.
To this day it remains a mystery why I herniated the disc. I knew a bunch of other people my age who were on a fitness and weightlifting grind who didn’t experience any of these issues. It likely was the result of pushing myself to my limits with improper weightlifting techniques combined with shitty luck. Looking back, I’d like to say I wish I didn’t pursue physical fitness with such an extreme devotion, but I really do enjoy pushing myself and tackling greater challenges. Even if I hadn’t herniated a disc at that point in time, it likely would have happened to me doing some other intense activity eventually. Initially, living with a herniated disc wasn’t so bad. While working out, hiking, and sitting down for extended periods of time caused some discomfort, it never prevented me from living the life I wanted and pursuing my physical fitness goals. Fueled by my body-related insecurities and desire to push myself, I kept exercising intensely and took on even more extreme hikes like Mt. Whitney (23 mile roundtrip with 6,000 feet in elevation gain over a single day). Sadly, things got worse from there. After completing another arduous hike with friends in Hawaii, I felt another weird sensation – a shooting, numbing pain going down my left arm which I never experienced before. The strange pain also didn’t go away when I took painkillers, which alarmed me even further. I decided to cut my trip short and head back home to figure out what happened and took yet another MRI.
What had happened? I herniated yet another disc, right below the previous one and the weird sensation I was feeling was actually nerve pain caused by the discs impinging nerves near my neck that travel down the shoulder and all the way to the hand. Unlike last time, the pain I felt in general was very high and even sitting down for just 15 minutes was excruciatingly painful. I could no longer run, lift weights, or live the active lifestyle I had become accustomed to. In lieu of those activities, I’ve started swimming more regularly – although it’s difficult to find open and heated pools these days – walking daily, and hiking less intense trails to stay fit. Meditating daily, getting lost in fascinating books, and playing the trumpet are my new ways to destress. Despite all that, it’s still painful watching the muscle mass I had worked so hard to build and maintain over the years slowly fade away as my muscles stopped being nurtured and used. Even when I thought I had reached a place of body positivity, in those ensuing weeks and months, I realized that I never really did. My extreme workouts were partly motivated by never feeling satisfied with how I looked and still feeling like I didn’t live up to the idealized image of the male figure. Losing my muscle mass reignited insecurities and shame that I worked so hard to forget.
While my disability isn’t noticeable to others externally and I’m spared from others’ judgment, I couldn’t help but feel like I was broken inside permanently and my body failed me. I yet again hated myself and my body for failing to meet society’s expectations. Truthfully, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I was exposed to a different way of thinking about myself and body positivity more broadly. I became exposed to the idea on a Facebook social media post about body positivity, that one’s weight is not a reflection of one’s health and being overweight in particular isn’t such a bad thing from an attractiveness, societal, or health perspective. This broke every belief I had – strongly feeling that being fat is unhealthy, unappealing, and should not be celebrated. After reflecting and discussing with others, I realized that health is a scientific concept and one’s weight does not accurately reflect health – people who may look overweight might be in good overall health, as paradoxical as it seems. A great example of this is NFL linebackers who typically weigh over 200 pounds and seem very unhealthy in terms of their body shape and size but are way more physically fit than the average person. I also realized that being overweight itself is not an issue to be worried about in isolation; it is the issues associated with being overweight that are the real causes of worry like having clogged arteries, difficulty sleeping, diabetes, etc. In that same vein of thought, I realized that having a body shape, or in my case a body structure, that does not conform with societal norms does not make one any less beautiful, whole, or healthy either. My eyes had been opened to the importance of self-love and body positivity, and how the way we view ourselves has a direct correlation with how we think and behave.
Last year I decided to make a big change. I adopted an entirely plant-based diet and no longer eat anything related to animals such as honey, ice cream, and pizza. The beautiful thing about being plant-based is it’s actually difficult to eat unhealthy – unless your diet mostly consists of carbs like bread or pasta or vegan junk food like plant-based ice cream and burgers. I’ve been feeling higher energy, don’t have food coma, or crash when I eat, and noticed I was losing weight as well. But being plant-based doesn’t guarantee one won’t gain weight, as I painfully found out after a few months of quarantine when I went home and the first thing my mom said to me was “Beta you’re looking heavier, you put on some weight”.
Since experiencing that initial epiphany, I have tried to continue practices in self-love and body positivity. I will admit that it is not always easy, and progress is not always linear. I still struggle with moments, days, and weeks of low self-esteem and body negativity. I still check myself out in the mirror every chance I get and obsessively focus on how my hair looks. I still pinch my belly and love handles, wishing they would shrink and disappear. I still find moments where I feel physically damaged and hate my body for not being able to do simple things that most of us take for granted like sitting in a car for an hour, bending down to pick things up off the floor, or playing with young children and dogs. While changing my behavior and mindset is certainly a work in progress, what has been encouraging is that in those situations I remind myself that I am beautiful, do not need to look or participate in certain activities to feel so, and that beauty comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes.
Whenever I find myself feeling insecure and down on myself because of my body, which inevitably happens and I’ve accepted won’t ever stop, I first accept how I’m feeling and don’t try to fight it. I try to introspect and figure out where these feelings are coming from, and remind myself that the only person’s opinion that really matters here is my own. What also helps is having a generally positive attitude, which I was able to forge through the difficult times I’ve endured and the realization that dwelling on the negative is a fruitless endeavor. Something else that helps when I feel down is the genuine acceptance that some things in life including negative feelings are out of my control and I should instead focus on controlling the controllables – my actions, behavior and mindset. The power of a positive mindset lies not in being happy all the time, but in preventing one from falling into spirals of negativity.
If I could travel back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d try to convey that it’s great to want to adopt a healthier lifestyle but to be cognizant of what is motivating me to do so. I’d also share that while pushing oneself is a great trait, it’s also wonderful to accept how you look at any point in time and find yourself beautiful even if how you appear doesn’t match society’s notions of beauty. I’d tell myself that while Ash Ketchum and other Shōnen protagonists are amazing, I should simply aspire to be the best version of myself, flaws and all.” -Rohit
“Story 3 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,Iwanted to hearyour 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 afterall, who can tell their story better than them?”-Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory
This is Alisa’s story, written in her own words:
“I’m Alisa Nguyen-Le, and I’m a 4’11” half white, half Vietnamese cisgendered woman. For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with insecurities around my short height, acne, and weight. To this day, I am working towards accepting and loving parts of myself that I once would grimace at. The journey of embracing body positivity and unlearning societal beauty standards is not easy, but to me, it’s crucial in order to live a truly fulfilling life. That is why this project spoke to me so much.
Around the age of puberty, I started breaking out with severe acne and developed a hatred towards the way my face looked. From once being called pepperoni face to my family always commenting on my skin, I never wanted people to look at my face. Every time I would look in the mirror, all I could see was my pimples and my scars. Because of the insecurity of having acne, I started wearing makeup when I was in the eighth grade to cover up my blemishes. In high school, I would put on a full face of makeup every single day to make me feel more confident and mask my insecurities I was having. When I put on makeup, I felt like a different, more likeable person. It hurt to look at myself in the mirror, and it was impossible to tell myself that I was beautiful unless I had a full face of makeup on.
On top of that, growing up in a community that was predominantly Asian, I always wanted to look more like my Asian side to fit in. With makeup, I felt as if I could alter my looks to be more of the person I wanted to be. When I would look in the mirror, the voice in my head would criticize everything I saw including the paleness of my skin, my acne, my sparse brows, my small lips, and my baby face. After I started to take birth control in college, I began noticing that my skin was getting better. Despite my acne improving, I still felt a lingering insecurity inside of me. I started to realize that the way I felt about myself was internal and that I had the power to change the narrative in my head. When I started to feel “ugly”, I would tell myself that no two people in this world are exactly alike and to embrace the face that nature had given me. By making this a mindful practice in my life, I slowly started becoming more confident in going outside without makeup at all. Finally, I was finally able to tell myself I was beautiful naturally.
Despite my progress in accepting my natural face, I also started to notice my body shape changing after beginning to take birth control. I was gaining weight. In the past, I would be able to eat whatever I wanted without gaining any weight. I would eat a lot and enjoy every moment of it. However, this started to change dramatically, and I started to tell myself that I couldn’t eat the way I used to. I began to feel insecure about the way my body looked, especially when wearing a bathing suit. My thighs were getting thicker, and I started to gain more fat on my stomach. I started to label my arms as flabby and would suck in my stomach when taking photos. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I felt like I was in someone else’s body. At the time, I was with my now ex-boyfriend and genuinely feared he wouldn’t want to be with me anymore because of the way my body was changing. I would discreetly throw in comments to hopefully receive compliments and validation from him to help make me feel worthy enough. This was also when Instagram influencers started to become more prevalent, and I started developing a habit of comparing myself to more fit, pretty, and skinny girls I saw online. I started going to the gym more regularly, and though it made me feel better, I started to base my self worth on whether or not I gymmed.
To this day, I struggle with only wanting to wear one-piece bathing suits (if I have to wear one), not wanting to wear outfits that show my arms, and avoiding crop tops (even though I love the look) to avoid feeling embarrassed over what people can see behind the fabric. I have fears that folks from high school will see photos of how I look now and think, “wow, she’s thickened,” or “Alisa let herself go.” It’s tough when I look in the mirror, and I’ll think I look good, but when I see myself in photos from the same day, I feel repulsed at how “fat” I look. I’ll genuinely question, “is this really how other people see me?”. During January 2020 (right before the pandemic), I went on a trip to Hawaii. I hated almost every single photo of myself in my bathing suit. After this trip, I told myself that I wanted to make some significant changes in my life to lose weight. I wanted to gym more aggressively, and I wanted to change my diet. I had seen other people try a keto diet and saw that it worked for them, so I told myself that I wanted to give it a try too. Although I started somewhat strong, I quickly started developing my old habits of eating carbs (mind you, I’m a huge foodie and love all foods, so this was incredibly challenging for me). My failed diet made me feel like a failure as a person.
When the pandemic hit, and gyms started closing, I honestly felt a bit of relief. Relief that I wouldn’t have the pressure of physically going to the gym. I also started to not feel as poorly about not sticking with my diet as my mind had shifted from being hyper-aware of how I looked to getting acclimated to “the new normal” of the pandemic. Although I always knew in the back of my mind that I had an unhealthy obsession with the gym, I never did anything about it. This changed dramatically during lockdown. After having no other choice but to sit down and reflect on what really mattered to me, I deprioritized my looks and shifted my focus to my health and the health of my loved ones. I also began to hear people talk about “quarantine weight,” which made me feel better knowing that other people were on their journeys. Now, my focus is to try to take care of my mind, body, and spirit. If I work out one night, then great. If I don’t, I try not to dwell on it. If I feel like eating something, I will try my best not to feel guilty about it. Of course, I’m a believer in “everything in moderation,” but I recognize it’s natural for things to become unbalanced from time to time.
It’s a life-long process, and I wish I could say I’ve moved past this internal battle with myself. Because of this internal battle, there are times where I feel like my obsession with exercising manifested itself into an obsession with at-home workouts. There are also times when I fear that I will develop the same obsession I had with the gym pre-covid life. However, in those moments, I have to remind myself not to be too hard on myself. When I die, I know people won’t remember me for how I looked on Instagram photos, but rather who I am as a person and how I made others feel. When I do feel my insecure mindset starting to creep up, I try to remind myself to channel that energy onto uplifting affirmations instead. I tell myself that everyone is beautiful the way they are, and everyone is on their self-love journey. I tell myself that it’s okay if I don’t look like the model girls I see on Instagram. I tell myself that people love me unconditionally, regardless of how I look. I tell myself that I am beautiful, even if it’s hard to believe at the moment. I know the journey of self-love is difficult, painful, and sometimes almost impossible to endure. However, through resilience and strength, I have faith that everyone will be able to see their natural-born beauty and embrace who they are inside and out. As we live in a digital world, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in beauty standards from what we see on the screen. I think it’s important to remind ourselves that what we see online is curated and does not always reflect reality. However, social media isn’t always negative, and it gives me hope and inspiration to see more body-positive activists spread the message that everyone is beautiful in their own way.
Although the “body positive” movement is often associated with advocating for bigger bodies in the media (which is absolutely necessary), I hope that one day, the stories of all body types will be shared. It’s important for all people to tell their story so our society becomes more understanding and empathetic of the people we surround ourselves with. For anyone else struggling with their body image, I want you to know that you are loved for who you are, regardless of what you look like. You are beautiful and unique. You are strong and will get through these challenges. If there is one thing that you take away from this story, please remember that you are not alone and we are in this together. You are one of a kind and there will never be someone exactly like you. Embrace it.”
I’ve realized lately that I’ve been more detached and have adopted the “go with the flow” / “I really don’t care” attitude, which is a big improvement since I’m usually an over-thinker that exhausts every scenario and question in my mind. I don’t know if my aloofness is due to pandemic fatigue, getting older, being busy, or just not giving a shit like I used to. What I’m currently working on is realizing that I am not responsible for anyone’s actions and emotions, except my own. Yes, in theory, that seems like a given. But it is something that I’ve struggled more with in the past. I’m learning to set boundaries with people around me, and removing myself from people or situations that don’t make me feel good. Over the past year, this is the area that I have grown and improved in the most. Being aware of how I communicate and how I choose to react has helped me see what I need to improve. It has also helped me see the flaws in others, and not letting their poor communication skills, or how they choose to project their feelings, effect me.
It’s a no brainer that everyone – regardless of who you are- deals with their own inner turmoil and demons. I will be the first to admit that there are still so many aspects of me that need healing, more self-work, and reflection. I know I’m not perfect. Self-work is an emotional journey. It’s a mix of shame, regret, sadness, and hope that there are better days to come. It’s never a straight path journey. It can be a little discouraging when you are doing so well for a period of time, and then something happens where you say something out of anger, or act a certain way that you’ve been trying so hard to avoid. At those times I get frustrated with myself, thinking that my progress that I worked so hard on is suddenly down the drain, and instead of progressing and going forward, I took a couple steps back. I feel emotionally drained knowing that I start back and square one – or at least it feels like it’s back to square one. Being aware of your bad habits and communication style is step one. Trying to unlearn all the bad habits and re-train your brain to react differently is a lifelong journey. I can only control what I choose to do with my life and time. And that also includes how I choose to react, or not react, who I choose to let in my inner circle, and what I will allow and not allow.
2020 was a bit of a shit show. But at the very least, it made me be more aware of how I communicate. When I really put my communication skills under the microscope, I felt ashamed and wanted to take the next steps to be a better communicator. It’s funny because in the professional sense, I am great at communication. I can keep it professional and say what needs to be said without hurting anyone’s feelings. But in my personal life, my communication is not that great. I’m very blunt, and I find it hard to cover up my annoyance, anger, and frustrations – it just results in being snappy and yelling. I’ve always said that I believe I’m a writer because I can’t communicate my emotions verbally without sounding like I’m all over the place. Writing it all out gives me the opportunity to revise my words, being extra careful to get all of my points across, leaving nothing unsaid, but at the same time giving the right tone. Verbally, I’m quick with my words, and I’ve come to realize over the years that my come back game is strong, but it can be very hurtful.
But I also understand that I can only control myself, and not others. Being aware of my own actions and trying to change my ways has forced me to see where others fall short as well. I reflect a lot on who I choose to surround myself with, and how certain relationships – whether that be with friends, acquaintances, family, and other people that I have to deal with day to day – can negatively impact me. Over the years, I have found myself cutting ties, letting friendships naturally drift, and setting boundaries. But it was not always that easy. It has taken years to finally set some boundaries for myself for what I will allow and will not allow into my life.
At this point in my life, I have tried to take more responsibility for how my words and tone can escalate a situation. Sometimes that even results in me staying silent to avoid an even bigger argument. Growing up, verbal fights weren’t over until there was an obvious winner or loser. This usually meant that someone said something so hurtful that the other person was in tears. You “win” the fight, but in the end you’re the loser for stooping so low. So now as an adult, I have to give myself constant reminders that a conversation can be had with disagreements without turning into a fight or argument. I try to apply this when I have a disagreement with my significant other, my sisters, sometimes even my parents. Like the saying goes, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” The importance of communication is undervalued, but I have seen instant improvements when I shift my tone or how I word things.
However, communication is a 2 way street. I can work on myself all I want, but I can’t control how others choose to communicate. How someone treats me is a reflection of themselves, and that is a pill that is hard to swallow. The truth is, not everyone will like you, and not everyone will be in your corner. How people act towards you when you are genuinely trying to better yourself is a reflection of how they feel about themselves. I’ve learned to just let it go, cut it off, and remove myself from those type of situations. Everyone has had some relationship, it could be romantic or not, that has been very negative and overbearing. It can be a relationship with your parent, or sibling, or friend, or co-worker, or in-laws, that just drains you. It can be anything from talking behind your back, saying hurtful things on purpose to hurt you, ignoring you on purpose so they make you feel like you owe them something, things that just don’t make you feel good. It may be sad to know that you are not for everyone, but it is also an eye opener to realize that not everyone is for you. You don’t have to have a relationship with people who constantly make you feel bad about yourself.
Everyone is dealing with something, but it comes to a point where it can’t be an excuse for how you treat others. That’s when cutting off, drifting, or setting boundaries comes into play. At this point in my life, I don’t have time to wonder if people are speaking ill of me behind my back, I don’t have time to argue with people who refuse to see my side or even listen, and I definitely don’t have time for people who don’t have the best intentions for me. It’s good to set boundaries with others, but also with yourself. What you will allow, and what you won’t. At the end of the day, you can only control how you communicate with others. And if you don’t like how someone is communicating with you, unfortunately, you can’t force someone to fix something they don’t think is broken. That’s something that they have to want and do for themselves. You can’t force someone to realize that they can be shitty at times. At those instances, it is best to remove yourself from that situation, or break that cycle.
The lesson of communication has taught me that not every person is going to be along for the ride with you forever. There are friendships and people that you just have to leave behind to move forward. It can be pretty sad, but it does bring a lot of peace of mind knowing that you have surrounded and hand picked every person that you chose to be in your life. And dealing with toxic / problem relationships without cutting them off is another story. Sometimes we are put in situations where you can’t really “cut off” the person that is bringing you so much negativity. I have found a middle balance of keeping it professional, but also keeping it moving. My feelings don’t get hurt anymore if someone is being shady because I’ve literally learned to not give a shit. I’ve learned to look past my own hurt and not take it personally. If you’re treating me some type of way, I know that it is something that you are dealing with within yourself. Awkward silence is no longer awkward for me, and letting someone else’s mood affect my mood is only giving them the satisfaction – misery loves company, and I got other shit to deal with.
2020 forced these things to light. “That’s just how I am,” is no longer and excuse or pass. Nobody is perfect, and we are all a work in progress. But, being aware, and attempting to re-learn is what’s important. You can’t control how someone reacts, speaks, or treats you. You can only control how you act, react, speak, and treat others. Understanding this has made it easier for me to weed out who I don’t want in my life. Setting boundaries has made me set a standard for what kind of people and energies I want to be around. I’m aware that I’m not perfect, but being aware and conscious that my communication skills need to be improved. It has brought on a whirlwind of emotions, from shame, anger, embarrassment, and everything in-between. There will be times where the progress feels stagnant, and like you’re fighting an uphill battle. There will be times where you mess up and go back to your old communicating style, but it’s all a part of the lesson. Understanding my emotions, and the root of why I react the way I do, has been a journey on it’s own, “that’s just the way I am,” is something I’ve been trying to take out of my vocabulary.
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!”
It’s clear to anyone that has followed my writing – I love to dissect social media and its effects on people’s lives, relationships, self esteem, and everything inbetween.
When I got to San Francisco State University, it seemed like that’s what all my articles gravitated to. I loved to write about social media and get people’s thoughts, wondering if I was the only one who had mixed feelings towards it. Of course, I knew I couldn’t be the only one feeling the way I felt, but it was amazing to see the spectrum of how it affected people. It’s like a love hate relationship, and it only seemed appropriate that I was Social Media Editor. I wanted to unravel the mystery of social media – something that is meant to be fun and leisurely, but somehow can take a drastic turn for the worse.
I’ve always gave it a lot of thought – how my generation grew up on social media. We were there through the birth and infancy of social media presence. I was too young for Friendster and all that, but my first online presence was my Aim and MySpace in 5th grade. And at the time, that shit was life changing. I felt so out of the loop not having ways to connect with friends other than the landline home telephone. Social media opened a whole new world of feeling in the loop, feeling included, and staying connected. And as a kid, you want to feel those bonds with your friend group. I made the profiles not even thinking twice of what this would mean. I’ve basically been posting things since I was 10.
Very often I wonder what life would be like if these platforms never existed, how different everything would be. I think to the kids that are born now, or even my future kids, how different their lives will be. We evolved with social media and technology, and they will be coming into a world where having a cellphone and social media is the norm. By the time my kids are teenagers, technology will be crazy good at probably a decent price. It’s cool, but it’s also terrifying. I see how dependent some kids and adults can be on their phones / tablets / laptops. I’ve even voiced how I would try to withhold my phone from my future children as long as possible. Of course, I say that now and can’t speak for the future. But it’s crazy to know that even if I do withold technology from my kids for the first couple years of their lives, it can possibly put them at a disadvantage in the future. Their world will be so heavily technology based that they’ll be seen as the weirdos if they don’t know how to work a touch screen by the age of 5.
Growing up with social media has always been normal to my generation. I thought it was cool – staying connected and seeing people’s lives and hobbies. It was strangely addicting. I loved to post, I loved to update my profiles, I loved taking pictures, and I was most definitely that bitch that would post what I was feeling or some emo song quotes for my “away message” on Aim. I could get the latest drama by reading comments, posts, and see who was on who’s side just by seeing who liked the post. It was crazy. Drama is ridiculous as it is. But when you have people that like to make their drama public in the heat of the moment, you have people like me reading the comment section eating my mental popcorn, having me on my toes, refreshing that shit for replies or indirectly “at-ing” someone. Growing up, drama wasn’t just drama anymore. You had to know all of the story – not only what started the drama, but what was said online.
I don’t know when the transition happened, but suddenly social media went from all light heart fun and sharing, to putting up a front. And I didn’t like that. I noticed the need to look a certain way if I posted something, or dwell on the “perfect caption.” But I didn’t really start asking myself why I felt this way until I was about 21 / 22 years old. I started becoming aware of the root to why I wanted to post things, and sometimes my reasoning didn’t sit well with me. I realized there was a lot of healing that needed to be done internally. But I still kind’ve ignored it. I was aware, but I didn’t want to make the effort to change it. It is what it is, and everyone feels this way anyways.
Instagram was my favorite form of social media. I would spend forever trying to find the perfect picture in the series of photos. Because everyone knows you can never just take 1 picture. A good photographer knows you need to take a bunch from different angles, a slight tilt of the head could change a photo drastically lol. I was always concerned about how I looked in the picture. Did I look pretty? Fat? Was my outfit cute? How’s my pose? Should I put a filter on it? Now what caption? These are all questions that I would consider when posting. It got exhausting. It went from wanting to post a picture because I liked it, to spending over an hour over analyzing everything to the point where I didn’t even want to post it anymore.
When I really asked myself why I felt the need to post or what drove me to post, it made me feel worse about myself. As pathetic as it sounds, getting “likes” made me feel important. It made me feel good about myself. Friends would comment nice things and give compliments, and it would boost my self-esteem. I had friends complimenting me on my appearance at a time where I wasn’t feeling confident about myself at all. In fact, 17 – 22 years old was when my body image of myself was probably at the lowest. But no matter how many compliments I would get from others, it didn’t change how I viewed myself. Social media was my outlet, it gave me instant gratification with every “like” that I would get. And sometimes that meant feeling bad when a picture didn’t get as much likes as I thought it would. It was all a game, and I was the loser in every scenario.
I was faking confidence, and it was a horrible feeling. I found myself trying not to be photographed in the same outfit if it already appeared on my profile. I only wanted to look nice for the sake of the picture, as if that was the only thing driving me to be a “bad bitch.” I wanted it to look like I was thriving in everything I was doing, I wanted to look interesting, I wanted it to seem like I was pretty all the time. I felt as though I had to uphold an image of myself that wasn’t even realistic or true. It didn’t mirror my real life, it didn’t show how I really felt, and I was using social media for the wrong reasons. In real life I’m goofy as fuck and 95% of the time I’m have no makeup. I prefer to be in leggings and a men’s L t-shirt. That side of me wasn’t being captured. I would stalk my own page and try to imagine what a stranger would think if they fumbled upon my page. Were my depictions accurate?
I didn’t want to get validation from social media and “likes.” I didn’t want to put up a façade anymore. I knew what was motivating me to post. So I knew I had to work on it. I didn’t want to ignore my why anymore. I was over it, I needed change, I needed to fix myself from the inside out. I saw how vain I was getting, and I hated it. This was not me. When did I start to care so much? I didn’t want to care anymore. It took way too much effort, and I wasn’t even doing it for the right reasons. And at the end of the day all I could think of was: Who even cares? We make social media a big part of our lives, we give it so much control over how we feel about ourselves… but when you really think about it … who even cares? Everyone is so wrapped up in their own head, caring about themselves and how they look, they could give a fuck about what I’m doing. Social media makes you feel connected with others, but at the end if it all, you’re just stuck with yourself, feeling even more isolated, and trapped in your head.
So, I fell off a little bit. I was still posting like once a month, but not as much as I used to. I focused on school and finishing up my degree. Honestly, my Women Gender Studies’ classes is what helped me heal a lot as well. It showed me that I wasn’t alone. It backed up my feminist beliefs and made me feel more secure and confident in myself. I had to learn the hard way that true confidence comes from you and your mentality, not from other people complimenting you. A little break is what I needed. And it’s very common now a days for people to have a social media cleansing and get off of it for a while. Sometimes people can come back to social media and use what they realized on their time off to set boundaries with themselves, but there are other times they realize they’re better off without it and never return. Both are respectable. Whatever brings you peace of mind.
I debated a long time whether to make a separate Instagram for my writing. I didn’t know if I wanted to mix my personal life and writing life together. I didn’t want to post so much on my personal Instagram and annoy people. But after much thought, I said fuck it. I am a writer, and a lot of my writing has to do with my personal life anyways. Anybody that doesn’t like it, can unfollow me. I didn’t care anymore about how much I posted, how many likes I got, and how I looked. I just wanted to push my work out and have people read it. Suddenly, I wasn’t posting for likes and validation anymore. I was posting to share my content and tell stories where people don’t feel alone. For years I tried to show parts of my life that only showed me in a positive light. But now here I am spilling the tea on myself and all my flaws, my low points, and insecurities. Being real and honest was the real glow up for me.
I don’t really care about my appearance like I used to. I used to trip out on how I looked if I was going out. I cared about who saw me, what people would think, and how I was presented. Nowadays, I could really give not a single fuck. It’s actually concerning sometimes because I think to myself, am I really that secure in myself that I don’t care, or am I depressed and don’t even wanna put it effort anymore that I don’t care? Or… possibly a mixture of both? All I know is I really don’t care about social media and appearance like I used to. I found peace in knowing that being a try hard is not a good look and I was using social media for the wrong reasons. Nowadays I find my posts getting a small amount of likes compared to back in the day. And back in the day I would get insecure about the number that appeared at the bottom of my picture. Now, I post because I want to, not because I’m feeling low and want some instant gratification. But it took a long time for me to get to this point, and I’m not knocking anyone that is still at that stage. I was you.
Not caring is what made me enjoy social media again. I used to care about what picture I added to my feed. It had to be “Instagram” worthy. Now I’m out here telling the world my greatest insecurities, thoughts, and stories. I used to care, but now I don’t, and that’s what set me free.
I snapped this photo when I was walking to the grocery store a few weeks back. Everytime I see artwork, a sign, a quote, or anything on the street that speaks to me, I take a picture of it. I always know that somehow, it’ll be used one day for one of my blog posts. This sign was no different, except this time it was very relevant to my current situation. I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while, but never found the words for it.
A great theme for 2020 in my personal life has been change, growth, and being “confident in my choices.” I put that in quotes because sometimes I wasn’t even close to being confident in my choices, but I had to front like I was because the slightest inclination of doubt would turn into others, or even myself, talking me out of a decision. That was probably the hardest part about deciding to move – being so doubtful and scared, but not being able to talk to certain people about my doubts because I knew they’d just try to sway me in their favor. All out of love, of course, but not really taking into mind the opportunity to grow and learn.
Growing up, I was taught that whatever I do is a reflection of my parents. How I act and what my life choices are is because of how my parents raised me. And that always annoyed me. I didn’t understand the root of its importance. “Who cares,” was my response to everything. I’ve had the rebel mindset since a young age. When I was growing up, I didn’t care what people thought, I didn’t care if I was looked at as the “bad” kid, I didn’t care that I had the mouth of a sailor. That’s probably also because as a kid, there’s not much I could fuck up and make my parents / family look bad. I mean, I got good grades, made the honor roll, and I wasn’t doing anything illegal.
It wasn’t until I reached young adulthood that this took on a whole new meaning. Who I dated, what crowd I hung around with, whether I went to college or not, if I was married or not, what I posted online, all reflected back on my family and parents. This is something that I have talked extensively with close family members and friends – how the Filipino culture really values how others see them. To an extent, I get it – the need to look like everyone in your family has it together and is successful. I mean, who doesn’t want to be seen as successful and always making the right moves? But these fears of worrying about what others will think is really detrimental to young adults who are trying to get the gears turning for their own life.
“What will your _______ (insert the name of a prominent family member / or whole family as a whole) think?!”
“What will people think of you?!”
“How does that make us look?!”
These are phrases that so many Filipinos have heard from their elders.
This is something that I still struggle with. Because at the end of the day, I don’t care what other people say about how I live my life, but I do care that my parents care. And that’s where it gets conflicting. I find myself trying to do what I want to do in my life, but do it the “right way.” I find myself trying to find loopholes and justify my actions like, “well it’s okay if I move in with my boyfriend who I’ve been with for over 5 years because eventually we’ll get married, so it’s okay. And others should understand that.” But why do others have to understand that? They don’t need to understand anything. Especially choices that don’t concern them or put anyone in harm’s way.
“What will people think and say?” It’s so generalized. Who are these people I should be concerned about? And why should I care what they think about me? It’s ironic, because I was taught to not care what people think about me, in terms of classmates and peers. Oh, you’re embarrassed that you have on Payless shoes? Who cares, you shouldn’t care what people think about your material things. Oh, you’re insecure about going out in your pajamas? Who cares, nobody’s going to see you, and if they do, so what? Oh, you want to drop out of college and pursue music? What will your aunties think?! Of course, the last is a fake scenario, but you get the jist.
And even if it is not generalized and there’s a specific family member, or family friend that your elders are trippin’ about, why does it matter? I feel like there’s such a generational gap, where our elders feel the need to uphold an image of the family, or themselves. And I get it. But at the same time I think it’s so dumb and pointless. Especially if you have to tiptoe around certain people with your life choices – life choices that aren’t even bad, but that some people don’t agree with. All the while, people should just mind their business and not really care what others are choosing to do with their lives. If you don’t agree with a choice, just don’t make that choice for yourself and move along.
Choose your love. Love your choices.
This came to me at a time where I was very conflicted and needed that reminder. Sometimes in life it feels like you have to choose between pleasing those around you or choosing yourself. And is it worth keeping the peace while you are in conflict with yourself? Sometimes you have to remind yourself that you are in control of your life. And people – whether that be family members, peers, friends – will talk regardless. So what is the point of changing the route of your life to please others? I’m glad that I have taken the road less traveled by, in terms of being traditional and abiding by standards. But sometimes it’s really hard.
I find this quote relevant to other parts in my life – like who I choose to be around, hangout with, and give access to the “real me.” And I shouldn’t be apologetic for distancing myself from people or situations that disturb my inner peace just to keep the outer peace and external noise at bay. This year has been the year in realizing that I don’t have to react to some situations anymore. I can just remove myself, keep a mental note, and keep it moving. It sounds very detached, but that’s life. Can’t stop the show for nobody, the show must go on. Especially being at the age I’m at now, I got more important things to worry about, like how I’m almost 26 and getting the boot on health insurance soon. I don’t have time for petty drama, hear say, gossip, or things that don’t concern me.
I choose me. Even if sometimes it’s hard to do. I try to front like choosing me is an easy decision, but it does stir some feelings inside of me sometimes. At the end of the day, I want to please my parents, their opinion of how I live my life matters to me, but they also understand that I have my own life and need to make decisions for myself. I don’t care about the extra noise of others who haven’t raised me. As long as my parents are content with my choices and trust me to make the right choices, that’s all that matters. Luckily, my parents know that at the end of the day, it’s my life and I have to live with the decisions I choose to make. So they’ll give their 2 cents, but will support me in what I choose. I think that’s a beautiful thing. To know that they still come from the generation that “cares” about what others may say, but still give their silent blessing for me to do as I please.
Choose your love. Love your choices.
So much easier to read than to live by. Choosing my peace is more important that upholding an image of myself for the sake of family or for family image. Being confident in my life choices and what direction I choose to take in this life is something I still need to work on. I need to love my choices and know that I chose it for a reason.
Daly City / San Francisco born and raised. Daly City, California, is known for the huge Filipino presence. People joke around that Daly City is basically “Little Manila.” I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area that is so culturally diverse, but also, had people that had the same background and traditions as myself. I know that a few hours out of the Bay Area in either direction is a totally different story. So I didn’t realize until my early 20’s how lucky I was to grow up here. I know there are a lot of people that have stories about being some of the only Asians at their high school and feeling the need to conform to those around them, which usually meant acting more white.
Of course, when I was younger, I was unaware of how fortunate I was to live in an area where some people have the same features as me, speak the same 2nd language as me, and have similar traditions as my family. At the time, all of this was my normal reality. I went to a Catholic school that highlighted a Filipino-Chinese Saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, every year. And everytime September rolled around, we would have San Lorenzo Ruiz’s mass during school hours. I would feel such a sense of pride. Mr. Mills’ class always “hosted” that mass, and I remember since Kindergarten going to the mass every year.
One student would recite sentence by sentence Lorenzo Ruiz’s story in English, and another student would translate that sentence in Tagalog. I can still remember the script: “Lorenzo Ruiz, our first martyr.” “Lorenzo Ruiz, una naming martir…” There was a specific song we sang at the mass that was entirely in Tagalog. I couldn’t understand the whole song, but I could understand majority of it. This was my “normal” growing up. Celebrating a Filipino Saint, for example, was “normal,” but now I look back and realize it’s because we had such a big Filipino community in the Bay Area. And I took so much pride in it. I was so proud.
When I was in 5th grade I was finally in Mr. Mills’ class. I was excited because I knew that I had the chance to play a role in the mass since he hosted it every year. When Mr. Mills started to ask for volunteers, my hand was one of the first to shoot up in the air. I wanted to be a part of San Lorenzo Ruiz’s mass so bad. The mass highlighted Filipinos and our language, and I wanted to be involved. Luckily, Mr.Mills picked me to have a part in the mass. I was going to be reading the English translation of Ruiz’s story. I was so excited because it was something I had watched for years from the church pews, but now, I’d be the one presenting it.
I practiced every night with my lines. The mass was going to be in front of the whole school, definitely more than 600 people. We would practice in the church, and I would have the microphone. I was known for being a loud mouth, which is probably why I was picked to read and have the role. Mr. Mills would always tell us, “Project your voice. Enunciate!” I could probably use my regular voice and people in the church could hear me without a microphone, so I was solid. I remember the day of the mass, I started to get stage fright. I looked out into the crowd and saw all eyes on me, as Ivan and I stood infront of the whole school. We told Lorenzo Ruiz’s story in English and in Tagalog, and after, I felt such a sense of pride that I got to be a part of something that highlighted my people.
Even though I grew up in a place where there were a lot of Filipinos, I still didn’t understand why nobody on TV looked like me. I would get excited watching shows that had an Asian person, and it was even more heart eyes if I knew they were Filipino as well. It was to the point where my sisters and I would say things like, “Look, an Asian!” “Do you think they’re Filipino?” “I bet maybe they’re half,” when we would see an Asian on TV. So even though I came from an area that was very Filipino/ Asian dense, I knew from a young age that Asians were not being represented on the TV screens. From Manny Pacquiao, to Shay Mitchell, to Apl.de.ap, to Jokoy, to Jasmine Trias on American Idol, once we caught wind of them being Filipino, we rode hard for them. On Balitang America, the Filipino news station that broadcasted American news through the Filipino lens, they would feature any Filipino making a name for us in America. From the music industry, to entertainment, to education.
I feel like Filipinos are very proud of other Filipinos who “make it.” Even if they have a small following, just claiming their Filipino heritage will have other Filipinos rep them. I even remember going on Shay Mitchell’s Ask back in the day and asking if she was really half Filipino. She actually responded and confirmed that she was in fact half Filipina. It made me so proud that an actress that I looked up to was representing us on the screen. I even recall reading interviews where Shay talked about growing up in an area that was mostly white, and being biracial had her feeling left out. Seeing people that look like me on the screen was important growing up. I was the kind of kid that literally set a “Filipino For Lyfe” themed MySpace background. Jokoy described seeing other Filipinos on TV as motivation to go for his dreams and make it as well.
When I got to high school the history books just touched on Filipino American history oh so briefly. I used to skim through the history books in middle school and see where Filipinos or the Philippines was ever brought up. It wouldn’t be much. High school was a weird time. Going to a high school in Daly City meant that there were gonna be a lot of Filipinos. It wasn’t always the case, but sometimes there would be snarky comments (sometimes from people I was even cool with) complaining about how the whole school is mostly Filipino / Asian. Being Asian or Filipino in Daly City didn’t make you special. You were just like everybody else. Which I saw was a good thing when I was younger. But then I hit my teen years and wanted to be different, I didn’t want to be “like everyone else.”
I wasn’t ashamed to be Filipino, but I wasn’t repping it hard like I used to. Why would I have to rep it if everyone and their mama was Filipino in Daly City anyways? Don’t get me wrong – I still would be happy when I saw a Filipino coming up. But at the same time I wouldn’t plaster “Filipino For Lyfe” as a MySpace background anymore because I thought it was cringe. At this age I was on the prowl for a boyfriend (cringe lyfe), and when people would ask if I would ever get with a Filipino guy, I’d respond in a way that made it seem like “never in a thousand years.” Which I thought was okay, since I’m Filipino too. “What if I find out they’re my cousin or something?!” I would say. Which by the way, isn’t too far fetched, my family on both sides are pretty big.
I would say it wasn’t until I got to SFSU and joined the journalism program did I start to get that sense of pride back again. Suddenly, my whole perspective shifted. I took on the role of “journalist” and was bothered over the fact that a great portion of newsrooms are ran by white people. White men to be exact. The lack of diversity in journalism is what ticked me off. And I wanted to change that. I wanted to represent my people and capture stories of people in my community, and branch out further. Suddenly, that pride was back. But that pride was matched with determination. Determined to make change and actually make a difference. I wasn’t giving people a “voice,” because everyone has a voice. I wanted to be so open and chill that anyone felt like they could open up to me and tell their stories, and describe to me their raw emotions.
Suddenly, I had a mission. I wanted to get more in touch with my culture, the good and the bad. And since being on this journey, I have learned a lot, just by talking to people casually about their own experiences. I started to embrace my Filipino culture with open arms again, like how I did when I was a kid. I didn’t care if I was 1 out of 2 billion Filipinos in the Bay Area. I didn’t care about the “Little Manila” jokes anymore. I wanted to learn more about my people’s history, their stories, their struggles. And I wanted to write it. Not some random journalist who is just trying to bang out another story. I didn’t want someone else to be writing our stories.
Especially being out of school, I have made efforts to try to educate myself on my own. I remember writing a paper in community College about how my dad’s side of the family arrived to America. Just by talking to the members of my own family, I uncovered historic events. My great grandfather was a prisoner of War and survivor of the Bataan Death March. This information I would’ve never known if I didn’t have the school assignment, and if I never asked for the story. I started becoming obsessed with other people’s stories. My whole life I’ve been the talker. And now, I’m taking on the role of listener and teacher.
October is Filipino American history month. Every month, we teach the kids at my school about a new country. This month, I chose the Philippines. Over the years I have seen the Bay Area, but San Francisco is particular, changing. And changing fast. And it’s nice to teach my 1.5 – 2 1/2 year old students about my culture and traditions. One of my students got picked up and told her mom she painted a flag for activity. Her mom asked if she remembered what country’s flag she painted. My student responded with, “Well, it’s where teacher Marinelle’s mom and dad is from.”
I had the right idea when I was in 5th grade, “Filipino For Lyfe.”