I have always been struck by the natural beauty of this earth. I grew up admiring rivers and the northern lights. I’ve forever been in awe of the quiet elegance of snow-covered trees. I was raised in a place where the landscapes leave people speechless.
Yet, being raised in a place where I was encouraged to admire the beauty of the land, I was never encouraged to admire the beauty of myself. Instead, through media that overwhelmingly supports white, Western beauty norms that favour slender white women, I was raised to chase an impossible means to an end. I have inherited many beautiful things from my mother, and one of those things was the impossibility of ever fitting into these ideals of beauty. Being born short, stocky, and squinty doesn’t lend itself to seeing oneself as a beautiful person.
This struggle to accept myself is tied so tightly to being Métis. If only I had two white parents, if only this, if only that … I wouldn’t be this. I fought intensely with myself throughout my adolescence. I had convinced myself and been convinced by others that my indigeneity was a downfall, that it was something that I should be ashamed of; my indigeneity was a factor in my perceived ugliness. This arbitrary level of beauty I kept holding myself to – which still permeates the back of my mind on days when I don’t feel strong enough to fight it off – is a legacy of colonization, serving to perpetuate an unhealthy colonial mentality.
I’ve been wondering how to fix this thinking: how do I make loving myself a normal part of my decolonial praxis? For me, decolonization begins and ends with the land. Everything is tied to land: how we treat each other, how we organize politically, and how we sustain ourselves as Indigenous peoples. As such, the love I have for myself as a Cree-Métis woman is tied to the land as well. My curves are grassy knolls, my stretch marks are ravines, my bruises are the northern lights, and my veins are rivers: I am beautiful like this land I come from.
This land is exquisite and so are we. If we can take the time to appreciate sunsets and mountain peaks, we can take the time to look in the mirror every morning and appreciate the curves of our bodies. We need, as Indigenous peoples, to practice radical self-love. We need to love ourselves in the same way we love this land. Our bodies are deeply flawed, imperfect, and breathtaking, just like this earth. Our bodies are sovereign territory like our Nations. Our bodies are homes we have to live in and with. We are often displaced, displeased, and dismayed with where we come from, but we love it, deeply and intrinsically. Loving ourselves is not something we can just do, it’s work. It’s decolonial work and it’s work we can’t do by ourselves.
I struggle every day to love myself. I know we all do. When days arise when I can barely even look at myself, I remember: we exist because of the love of our ancestors. Our bodies are comprised of stories older than time, our blood and bones are in the earth. Even if I have a day when I can’t see the beauty in myself, I still know that as imperfect as I am, I am here and supported by those who have loved me into existence. Within this insurmountable accumulation of love, for land and people, I find enough left for me to begin to love myself again.