The best part about living abroad that I want to touch on is self-love and acceptance. Since June of 2014, I have been living off and on in Helsinki, Finland for work. After living in the US for 17 years, I realized one of my biggest issues was constantly battling the image of what our society considered “beauty” and having to continually teach or reinforce to myself self-acceptance despite evidence to the contrary. From I was a teenager, I was fed an image of what it took to be perfect physically and if there was anything about me that didn’t meet that image, then I would try everything in myself to change it. At one point in high school, I went crazy one summer where I worked out 7 days a week and only ate 1 real per day with snacks mixed in just to not gain weight. I even became my own self-proclaimed doctor and set an arbitrary weight limit of 130 pounds for myself. I can’t even recall how I came up with that number but at the time I thought it was ingenious. It’s sad to say but when I look back the only times that I felt 100% confident were when I was below this arbitrary weight limit of 130 pounds. Outside of those times (post graduate school/corporate America life), I carried around an unacknowledged sense of insecurity regarding my weight and self-image.
Traveling helped me battle this is in so many ways. Travel teaches us that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. Cliché but accurate. I reached the point in the US where guys started asking me if I was “mixed” as some sort of precursor to determine whether I was dateable. I was never sure whether to take that as a sign that people are more accepting of interracial relationships or be insulted because I’m deemed to be plain vanilla when I respond with a profound and resolute no. Overseas, I have never been asked this question. In fact, I feel like my “Blackness” in its plain vanilla greatness is celebrated. People are constantly praising my skin tone, hair, and shape. From the cab driver in Chiang Mai who kept begging to rub my skin and telling me of his love for brown girls and Jamaicans to the women in Bangkok fascinated that I didn’t want to wear sunblock to prevent from becoming darker to the guys in Paris who feed me sweet nothings in French to random proposition from the cutie in the bookstore in Stockholm to even Finnish guys (shocker to me since I’m definitely not blond or a tall, skinny model) hitting on me, I’ve experienced very little self-doubt while traveling or living abroad. There is a freedom to just be and embrace people who embrace me rather than trying to prove anyone but myself that I am acceptable as I am. What I once found less appealing about myself are things that I’ve now learned to embrace.
In fact, the last time I came home to the US, I was having this discussion with a friend and I told her that I think that it should be the goal of every black woman to get out of the US even if it’s just for a 5 day period and go somewhere else for vacation so that they can realize that although you may feel like you are not at the top of totem pole for what is considered desirable or beautiful by the majority, somewhere abroad there are people who think you are beautiful beyond belief. When I say travel changed my life, I mean it in so many ways. Now, I’m at the most confident that I’ve ever been. So my advice is to go, see, do, reflect, and bask in the love!!!