Aziza Shuler

Loving Myself As I Am

By Aziza Shuler

My journey to self-love, like many, is a deeply personal one, rooted in self-discovery that I arrived at by studying my mother and unraveling not only her story but also the profound connections it had with my own identity. 

I come from a lineage of women who’ve grappled with the complexities of love, a theme that has deeply shaped my own journey. At the heart of this narrative lies the absence of a mother’s love, a defining element passed down through generations. 

This absence, in turn, led me to a realization: one of the most powerful forces in the universe is a mother’s love. It’s akin to a warm, cozy blanket that wraps you up when you’re feeling cold and lost. That love is extraordinary and in a league of its own. It’s an innate reflection of self-love. Our mothers often form the bedrock of our self-identity. They play an integral role in shaping our perceptions of beauty, confidence, and embracing our unique qualities.  

However, my grandmother, a complex figure in her own right, inadvertently set the stage for my mother’s longing for that kind of love and example. Unfortunately, my grandmother was unable to provide it. From her earliest memories, my mother carried the heavy weight of feeling unloved, unwanted, and unliked by the woman who brought her into this world. During her childhood, my mother endured 

a torrent of abuse, a consequence of her mother’s neglect and abandonment. To numb the pain, she turned to drugs, but this coping mechanism only intensified my grandmother’s feelings of shame, judgment, and eventual complete rejection of her daughter.


It wasn’t until my mother met my father, that she experienced a love unlike anything she’d ever known. At the tender age of 18, she had never truly beheld her own beauty, nor did she believe herself deserving of the limitless, all-encompassing love that my father lavished upon her. The sheer magnitude of this affection, previously unimaginable, touched her soul at its core. She’d found her soulmate. Yet, their love didn’t fill the void or heal the scars of her shattered relationship with her mother.  


Both my parents struggled with drug addiction, after all this was the 1980’s! But my mother faced a dependency on drugs that my father didn’t. He managed to maintain a sophisticated level of functionality. My mother knew no bounds. When I was born, my parents already had my 

five older brothers. During her pregnancy with me, my mother was in a women’s jail doing time for theft. The sentence might not have been long, but it was long enough for her to go into labor, give birth to me, and then painfully return to the confines of her jail cell without her newborn baby. Hours after I came into this world, my father was there to pick up his baby girl and bring me home to Washington, D.C. Two years later my mother gave birth to my sister. My parents had yet to overcome their addiction and it was a matter of time before the consequences of that caught up with us.  


I was a toddler when Child Protective Services broke up our family and forced the seven of us into the foster care system. That was the beginning of another generation of children deprived of a mother’s love. It was also the catalyst for a heart-wrenching journey of relinquishing my own self-love. 


Much like my mother, I had never truly seen my own beauty due to the scars of my childhood. In foster care, I endured mental, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. When my abusers beat me, yelled at me, assaulted and abandoned me, I believed I was worthless. Actually, I  didn’t know I was capable of knowing my worth or that I held the capacity to feel love. I’d experienced turmoil longer than I’d experienced the warm embrace and safety of my parents’ love.  


As a child, I was made fun of for my distinctive features–large nose, big teeth, and skinny frame. If I had known I was the spitting image of my beautiful mother, those words wouldn’t have cut so deep, butchering my self-esteem. But, at that time, my maternal grandmother and aunt were raising me. They despised my parents, particularly my mother, and taught my older brother, younger sister, and I to never speak of our past or our parents.  


When I turned 12, my long, thick hair began falling out. Initially, it was a small bald spot, but then it quickly spread throughout my entire scalp until I was completely bald. I was diagnosed with Alopecia, a condition where the immune system attacks hair follicles, leading to hair loss. In many cases, doctors attribute alopecia to stress and trauma. As a teenager losing my hair and occasionally my eyebrows and eyelashes, I felt different and, worse, ugly. My aunt bought me wigs to conceal my bald head. Not once did we have a conversation about seeing beauty  beyond my hair or seeing beauty beyond other imperfections that I viciously hid. Throughout elementary school, I had eczema. I wore long-sleeved shirts, even in the height of the summer, to hide my arms and a stomach that was plagued with hyper-pigmented, flakey, bumpy rashes.  


Hiding became my identity. But this camouflage only amplified my insecurities. Those insecurities screamed at me every time I looked in the mirror. I had constructed an armor that I wore every time I stepped out into the world – wigs, makeup, and a steel guard that I put up to  keep people from getting too close to my vulnerable side. The side that lacked self-confidence. 

Staring at my reflection in the mirror, it often felt like I was gazing into something far beyond the physical. The looking glass seemed to reveal not just a reflection but a portal into the intricate, tangled web of my insecurities. In those moments, there was no armor. I could see the remnants of past wounds–the suffocating shadows of childhood and generational trauma that I desperately tried to outrun. 


I was running without a destination in sight. Much like my mother, who used drugs to escape the void, I too was running from the same emptiness. Only I wasn’t addicted to drugs, I was addicted to perfection. Running, for me, meant masking my insecurities, wearing wigs, being meek, acting overly kind, pursuing unattainable love, and obsessing over career achievements. Soon enough, just as my mother discovered, none of it was ever enough. None of it brought me inner peace. I remained unfulfilled, running an endless marathon. 


As I grew older, I began to realize that the void I was trying to fill could only be filled with self-love. And how could I love myself if I was always hiding? Approaching 30 years old, I embarked on a quest to find and unleash the most authentic version of myself. The journey led me to shed my armor and embrace the woman in the mirror unapologetically. In September 2023, I proudly revealed my bald crown and owned the story of who and what made me the woman I am. I let go of the fear of judgment that had held me captive and dictated my self-image for most of my life.  


Now, I can confidently say I love Aziza. I adore the way she looks with her clean bald head, distinctive features and golden bronze skin. I take pride in the way she speaks, where she comes from, and what she’s been through. Don’t mistake this for arrogance; it’s not about striving for perfection, but rather a deep and abiding respect and affection for oneself.  


My mother also fought off her demons and has shown me what it looks like to come out on the other side with respect and affection for herself. She’s my living embodiment of strength, a testament to resilience, and a shining example of forgiveness. In her journey, I see the power of self-love and the incredible transformation that occurs when you give yourself permission to be free and embrace your own worth.  


And here’s the beautiful twist – when you genuinely love your most authentic self, you can attract healthier, more fulfilling, and rewarding relationships and connections in this world. Love flows freely, unburdened by the weight of insecurities and self-doubt. You set and chase dreams that resonate with your values and passions, steering your life in a direction that suits you best. It empowers you to make choices that are in your best interest. Ultimately, living a more genuine and satisfying life. 


But, let’s not mistake my arrival at this newfound self-love and freedom as my final destination. 


After all, it’s a lifelong adventure, and I’m ready to embrace every moment of it.

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