Loving Myself in Colonized Spaces

Over the last few weeks, as we entered the 2019 Gregorian New Year, I have been thinking about love, specifically love for myself, self-love. I have been thinking of the ways that my love has been colonized, how it has been modified and twisted in ways that aligned with what/who is considered desirable and what/who is considered worthy of love. 

These thoughts and considerations derive from when I hosted a wonderful Twitter account, @IndigenousXca, between December 20 to December 27, 2018. During my time as a host, I intended to highlight topics that challenged and pushed conversations around indigeneity. I wrote three different threads, one on the socioeconomic status differences among Indigenous Peoples, the recycling of settler colonialism, and the politics of desirability relationship with settler colonialism. 

My reconsideration of love was inspired by the last topic, desirability. The content of the thread challenged me to be conscious of the ways that settler colonialism has informed who I consider desirable resulting in a shift in how I conceptualize loving myself in colonized spaces. 

In the Twitter thread, I defined desire, using a Google definition, as “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen”. There is a consumptive aspect to desire that I acknowledged and emphasized. Further, into the twitter thread, I argue that desire is a result of intergenerational social conditioning influenced by an overarching social system, an intergenerational understanding of desire. What I mean by that is that who we perceive as desirable, who we consider desirable, and who we prefer, whether romantically or platonically, is socially constructed.  

One such social system that I highlight in the thread is settler colonialism. In the thread about the recycling of settler colonialism, I write that the intention of settler colonialism was and is committed to eradicating Indigenous Peoples, disappearing us in whatever way possible (a reference to Tuck & Yang, 2012) by modifying us to be similar to those who hold power (colonizers).

The invasiveness of settler colonialism is so widespread and insidious that it manifests in a variety of ways, reifying the apocalyptic existence that Indigenous Peoples are forced into. I find myself being conscious of the ways that self-love has been colonized. I think of the ways that my love towards myself has been corrupted and broken (a familiar tension that I have tried to articulate in a prior blog post).

Colonized Self-Love

For as long as I can remember, I never liked how I look. Growing up, I was constantly told by medical doctors that I needed to lose weight to be “healthy”. I was rationed food because I supposedly had too much from a previous meal. My clothes were purchased from the adult section because none of the “child” clothes fit me. In one way or another, I was told that I was not normal that there was something wrong with my body, there was something wrong with me. My body had to be corrected. My body was shamed.

Between graduating from high school and then, I was losing weight, but I still was not happy. I was eating “healthier” and going to the gym more, running a mile two to three times a week. Yet, in spite of all this, I was not happy. I still did not like my body, I felt like I had to lose more weight in order to be happy. I was in this headspace that I will only be happy if I was thinner. If I was socially desirable, I would be happier. I learned otherwise. 

In reflecting, it was not until I studied abroad during my undergraduate that I really started to challenge myself. In the midst of culture shock, I wanted to love my body. I wanted to fall in love with myself.I wanted to reconstruct how I viewed and how I interact with my body. Yet, I did not know how. Personally, when your body is not glorified or sexualized, it is hard to find your body desirable. It is hard to consider loving something that you have been told your whole life is ugly. But, I decided to anyway. 

A Changing Body

At the end of November 2018, I responded to a tweet from a wonderful friend, Feroz, or known on Twitter as @trannycita. She asked transwomen and transfeminine people, when did they first realize they were trans.

I responded the following:

https://twitter.com/GrandmaSaidNo/status/1068012446600884234

Since then, I have been thinking about my response to Feroz. I have been thinking about the connection between my culture and my body, both colonized and tainted in various ways. In prior reflections, I have stated that my embodiment, what I have theorized as the Diné Aesthetic(s), was and continues to be created from legacies of love, through histories of survival, continuous moments of kinship, and remnants of fighting (Scott, 2016).  Resisting settler colonialism is a daily fight. A fight against the disappearance of my culture and my sense of self. Yet, in the moment of internal crisis, when I was surrounded by a country that participated in the colonization of what is currently the United States, I reconnected with something older and more personal. In this moment of great distress, I was able to disrupt the internal construction of colonialism. 

Being away from home, only made my connection to my culture and to the land stronger than ever before. Six thousand miles away, I was able to reconnect with a sense of self that was inherited. I came to understand love and beauty beyond the influence of colonization.

For the longest time, I denied myself the joys of seeing myself as someone deserving of love with a body that does not need to be shamed, that does not need to be silenced, and that does not need to be corrected. I have been conditioned to hate my body and to think of myself as unworthy. I was constantly told that I am ugly and denied feeling beautiful and loved.

The true ugliness in the world is the insidiousness of settler colonialism. In trying to disappear my people it has warped my own sense of self and has encouraged me to act in ways that reflect my own demise. I am learning to refuse that continuation because I have decided to reject a self-hated existence.

Disrupting Poison

I may not have clear skin. I may not be white. I may not have abs. I may not have blue eyes. I may not have blonde hair. Yet, what I have is an understanding of Diné power, beauty, and divinity that disrupts the poison of settler colonialism. Yet, that does not mean I am fully healed.

No.

I have only developed a sense of self that I am comfortable with. A sense of self that  I am learning to love, one second, one minute, one day, one month, and one year at a time. I know now that I need to be critical of what (or who) I find desirable and what (or who) I find worthy of love. I know that I am not alone in this. 

Honestly, I am a lot happier now than I have ever been in a long time. Every now and then, the internal colonized voice calls me fat, ugly, or unattractive, but I when I look into the mirror, I see the reflection of someone familiar, someone older. I imagine the first nádleeh looking back at me, revered by the Diné and feared by the colonizers. I see a herstory of love, unconditional, and a future. A future in which, I love every single part of myself in a de/colonized space.

Until then, I remind myself that I am powerful, that I am beautiful, and that I am sacred. You are too. 

ahéhee’ // thank you.

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