Shenade

I’ve changed. There was a time when I thought beauty was physical, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to know that there is a difference between being beautiful and being attractive. Beauty isn’t physical to me. I’m still in the process of trying to find the things I love about myself, but what I find most beautiful about myself is the passion I have toward my cooking. Cooking makes me feel like I’m good, I’m okay. I don’t need anyone else’s opinions or compliments because my passion is enough. I feel sexy when I get a compliment on a dish I made. I feel like its a good look when I know there’s a line of people, and 3 out of a thousand get out of line to wait for me to cook for them. I feel hot, fly, and secure knowing they only have 30 minutes on their lunch break and are willing to wait 15 for me and rush to eat. Then, I know I’m doing my job. Preparation for my day does not begin and end in front of a mirror.

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I’ve changed. There was a time when I thought beauty was physical, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to know that there is a difference between being beautiful and being attractive.

I’m not sure people understand what beauty really is. People don’t think about what others have to offer. Are you able to make me feel better without telling me that I’m pretty? I can’t take a compliment sometimes and it is because I’ve been around REALLY beautiful people and it has nothing to do with the way they look.

The time spent before a mirror is brief. I look at my reflection and make sure I’m presentable. I look at my outfit and almost never my face. My bare face does not scare me. I feel more comfortable. When I was coming into my own, I was very sure of the person I wanted to be in regards to my sexuality, but I couldn’t be who I was. I had to wear makeup in high school to satisfy my family. I was scared of their judgment. All the women in my family are beautiful. We got all our looks from my grandmother. I was expected to be that, very feminine. I wore mascara and eyeliner mostly and if I didn’t wear makeup I would read their thoughts in the looks they would give me. I knew who I wanted to be was not acceptable.

As years went on I had to work to actualize my aspirations of being a cook, and through that grind, I was on my own. Because of the way I had to hustle and struggle to be who I am, I allowed myself to be honest about what kind of a woman I am. I’m a lesbian. I am very much a lesbian, and I love everything that is female. Things have become about more than my physical face, because for my customers it’s the dishes I prepare that serve as my first impression. In every one of my plates, and what I prepare on them, is a part of me.

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I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome shortly after I was in New York attending ICE Culinary Institute.

Growing up, I didn’t have my mother around to teach me a lot of the things I needed her to show me. Her addiction to drugs often enabled her to cause more harm than good. I learned from her how to be independent, how to clean up after myself, and cook. What I didn’t learn was stability, what to do when I get out of college, and how to look after my emotional well-being. Those things came much later, but I took the good things and kept moving. When my mother lost custody of my little sister, it was me that fought to keep her with me. Because of my mother’s drug abuse, my sister suffered from seizures, which she no longer suffers from. After they stopped occurring, I lied to the social workers, and I insisted that the condition was still there, and that only I knew how to administer her medicine so I could keep her with me. I was eight years old. I want to be a teenager again, because my mother robbed me of that but then I keep telling myself, “No, fun comes later. I’ll get to have fun later.” My understanding has become that you’re going to struggle, but you’re going to understand what you’re going through. I’m going to get there. I don’t know where there is, but I will be there eventually. I feel I’m supposed to be there, I’m not, and I’m not sure why but I will understand.

I was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome shortly after I was in New York attending ICE Culinary Institute. My body did not produce certain things that are necessary to daily function. I had to use artificial saliva and artificial tears. Without saliva I cannot digest my food the same way, there was even a period of time I could not taste anything. It was miserable. That is when the weight loss began. I used to be a very curvy girl, a beautiful body and it was my favorite part of myself. It all went down hill. I was humbled by my appearance. I gave school another shot after a surgery performed for an infection in my jaw line, which was thought to be lymphoma. I was so upset I didn’t get to go to school. I didn’t care what I had wrong with me, because of that, I neglected my medication and myself. When I did take it, it made me worse.

I later thought, if I did everything right through a healthy lifestyle and was positive, I could gain weight. I continued to work. My mother let me travel to San Diego after I met someone that wanted me to go for vacation. I packed a duffle bag with all my chef stuff, and I was supposed to come back a week later, but I never did. Before I left to San Diego, I applied and I didn’t think I would get accepted but as soon as I landed I got a package and inside was my acceptance. I got a scholarship. My mother felt betrayed. I missed my flight on purpose. I went to the airport at the time my flight was supposed to depart, and left. My heart said, “No. You can’t go back home.” I bought a car off of craigslist without a license. I spent a year traveling. I owned a house in Mexico. I learned the value of the peso, I learned the value of the dollar. I had to hustle my way through by myself.

Then my volatile relationship with mom came back to haunt me. She begged for me to come back and I did. It was then five of us in a one bedroom apartment. We didn’t have space. I dropped life to go back. I did it to take a load off her shoulders and was forced to carry it myself.

Once I started to struggle I knew what beauty was. I knew what it was to be loyal to myself and to those who valued me. I saw beneath all the makeup, clothing and brands. Before it was all about that, but I never knew shit about any of those things. I know pain, because it’s deeper than that. That’s what’s more reflective of what I see as beauty now. I dreaded a lock of my hair to teach me patience. How long it takes to lock and grow, its teaching patience. I also got these tattoos of my chef knives and right next to it, is the word Beautiful. I got into the habit of calling the dishes I prepared beautiful, and it was a woman named Jamila that first called a meal I prepared beautiful, which  also means beautiful in Arabic. It stuck with me.

What makes a person ugly is an elevated sense of pride when you’re hiding behind something, when you think you’re hot but you’re not true to who you are, it’s ugly. You start doing things you don’t like doing and then you don’t like yourself. You get ugly when you’re not taking care of yourself inside, not taking pride in who you are, letting yourself get stepped on.

I think we have to stop criticizing each other as much as women, instead of saying you can do this, to fix this. We’re adding extra shit to ourselves, but if you accept it, then people will accept you because they have no choice. My friend is cross eyed, he embraces it and makes fun of it. It makes me think that he’s just a beautiful person. He embraces it, acknowledges it and after seeing a beautiful woman, he jokes “and my right eye went straight.” He involves himself and makes it his personality. You can’t make him the butt of any of your jokes. Its gonna be funny when he says its funny. By being able to laugh at himself, he takes all the power. You can’t take that away from him.

What used to be anorexic females, became beat faces no matter your size. If your face is beat then you’re hot. Thick ass eyebrows you’re fly. Naomi Campbell to Kim Kardashian, who can handle the pressure?  Who can’t? Beauty standards and becoming a chef, I find to have similar struggles. People who try to become chefs kill themselves under the pressure, whose going to go the extra mile and whose going to run and jump. I have separated myself a long time ago. I just know I’m not that type.

Men need to stop belittling us, women need to stick together when it comes to just  that. We should be more untied than against each other. “I look better than you” and it has nothing to do with looks, all the energy we put into looks needs to be put into the things that matter.

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I have lived and I have loved.

I built this. Everything that I been through made me not trust anyone, not even myself. My mother breaking her word made everything mean nothing. Trusting. Physically my mom is beautiful but inside she’s a really ugly person. Being around her was toxic, and friends that walked this path with me made me see the difference. From my relationship with my mother, I have nothing to show for other than this life. I am proud of who I am. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed. I did not get to experience normal things like prom and I also experienced things a child never should like seeing your mom doing drugs. What I did experience though, is a life like no one else’s. I have lived and I have loved.

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