The sleeves of my smocked dress pinched my arms, my chubby hands gripped the microphone tightly as I stared at an onlooking crowd of heavily made- up, glamorous smiling faces. The familiar high-pitched, electronic piano strains of The Greatest Love of All slowly played on a minus-one, eight-track sound system that was taller than me. “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside…”
I was obliged to sing this song every time my parents had guests. And they had parties all the time. I’m not certain why, I’m not a great singer, but I was always happy to perform. I was five and Whitney Houston was my idol.
Hers was the only cassette tape I owned. Every morning of my early childhood, I would slip that tape into my little pink stereo and listen to her greatest hits. My favorite wakeup call was I Wanna Dance with Somebody. I would blast it out loud, wriggle my hips, jump around and sing along with full drama in front of the mirror as I got ready for school. It felt amazing to be me!
Kelly Misa recently found her old journal from high school, and was taken aback by all the self-hate talk. I hate myself? Why?
It was the embodiment of pure joy. The exhilarating feeling of being totally and utterly free. Free from judgment, free from criticism, free from doubt… living life with no fear, just diving all in, living every second to the fullest.
And then, I grew up. Fast forward to 30 years later, to the days where I hit my lowest point. These were the times where I would make horrendous grimaces in the mirror under the guise of reminding myself not to be vain, when really it was all a form of self-loathing.
Where did that little girl go?
I can honestly speak about this now because of where I am in this healing journey, but I find it incredible how so many women fall into this dark place. During a recent podcast interview with model and digital creator Kelly Misa, she shares with me her own experience: “I recently found my old journal from high school, and apart from the usual entries about my crushes, I was taken aback by all the self-hate talk. I hate myself? Why? What was I going through? Why was there so much of it?”
Young women in particular are riddled with insecurities, usually first about appearances, then about themselves. We grow up comparing ourselves to others and feeling completely inadequate so that we end up working harder to be valued. “I grew up being such a people pleaser and my whole life I just wanted people to like me,” Kelly expresses. “It was like I was screaming to the world, please love me! I got to a point where I felt like I had nothing to give and I was just so depleted.”
That emptiness is all too familiar. So is the people pleasing. I so desperately needed that validation. Perhaps it was all those moments singing in front of a doting crowd? The thunderous applause that came just because you simply existed? We spend our lives trying to recreate that feeling. Giving it all we’ve got, living for others’ standards. Like a candle with an untrimmed wick, producing giant garish flames, it burns bright and burns out furious and fast.
The day I realized that I didn’t need to shine for anyone but myself was the day I discovered the greatest love of all.
“Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.”
We can and we should applaud ourselves for simply existing. We should be our own champions. All the light and love we need is already within us. It took me many years to really understand the impact and power of this song. When I watched Whitney Houston’s recent biopic, I learned that her first true love was a woman. She sadly spent her whole life suppressing who she really was inside, not living her truth, until ultimately it ended in her tragic death. Living for others is the worst thing you can do. Contrary to being “selfless,” it is in fact incredibly egocentric because you burden them with the pressure of being the source of your happiness and joy. They become your only source of fulfilment and purpose. What a great responsibility. In the words of Robert A. Johnson, you give them your gold to carry.
“There came a point where I asked myself, what am I doing this for?” says Kelly. “I want to pour into me now. As long as you stay true to who you are, the rest will fall into place.”
As I enter my 40s this year, I feel like I have finally reclaimed my power. I’ve found my strength in love.
Because I truly love myself, I have the capacity to love others more wholly and freely. I have healthy relationships around me; with people who respect and value me and accept me for who I am in my entirety—the good, the bad, and everything else in between. Our relationships with other people and with the world is only a projection of your relationship with yourself. In the end, you will only have the relationships, interactions and opportunities you feel you deserve. So the most important relationship to work on is the one with yourself.
“You’ll be able to go on to a different storyline that will resonate with who you are,” exclaims Kelly. “It’s important to always try to improve yourself, to discover who you are, what your boundaries are and what you want in life. Then you’re being authentic, you’re vibrating higher, and you’re just attracting all of these wonderful things that you deserve. And we all deserve the best.”
Aham Prema. Aham Prema. Aham Prema.
I am divine love.
This is the mantra I used every day during the beginning of my healing journey. As I allowed the powerful energy of the mantra to resonate with me, tuning my spirit to its loving intention, I had an epiphany. We don’t just feel love, we ARE love. Love is not something meant to be given, it’s meant to be embodied. Your heart is expansive and capable of holding space for everyone and everything, especially yourself.
So this Valentine’s Day, bask in the glow of your inner light and remind yourself that you are capable of abundant, unending, unconditional love, because you ARE a being of divine love.
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Soulful Feasts is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts with new episodes every Tuesday. Brought to you by Anima Studios. The episode with Kelly Misa will be out Feb. 13. Here’s a preliminary link: https://open.spotify.com/show/1sqO76DG1fo9OQJxS2Ad57?si=557a8950c09c46ef.