by Connie Sobczak, co-founder of The Body Positive, originally published here.

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, I want to share the words of Athena Nair, a high school senior. I met Athena last fall when her school hired us to do a Be Body Positive Facilitator Training. Athena is a passionate and powerful human being who has come home to her body. 

I have chills from head to toe as I share Athena’s words with you!

Part One.

To All the Girls I’ve Been Before:
I accept you. You’ve been in my life maybe for a few years,
maybe just on and off when you feel like it, but whether I like it
or not, you girls are all a part of me.

Here’s my bubbly, sappy, grateful exterior.

Not far below, I’m kind of emo.
Those of you who have spent time with me have seen this girl,
perhaps more frequently recently. She writes cringey, emotional songs
that are hidden away in a Google Drive folder. You don’t see this girl
all the time because we’re so pressured to be happy but stressed,
“a perfect mess”. But emo me, I love you for being in touch with the ups
and downs, (mostly the downs), of life.

I’m a dancer, a singer, an actor.
Those of you who have had even one conversation with me and
heard me rave about Queen Beyonce or reference Les Mis know this girl.
She has passion in her eyes, joy in her smile: a theatre nerd.
She’s a hopeless romantic, who secretly loves Shawn Mendes.
You don’t always see her. She’s surrounded by so many messages
about all the ways her love for the arts is “unuseful” and means that she’ll be
“unsuccessful”. “Try coding!” (I have.) But musical me, I love you
for your playlists for every mood and your firecracker footwork
and the scrunched up face you make when you sing.

I’m a brown woman.
Those of you who have seen me see this
right away. This girl has dark skin, a lot of hair: an Indian girl.
She has coconut oil, spice tolerance, and spunky strength
flowing through her veins. You don’t see her all the time because
she’s heard all the ways her skin is “dirty” and “wrong”.
Sometimes she’s the only person of color in a room. Sometimes
she feels like she can’t stand up to a racially insensitive
comment because she’ll just look like an “angry brown girl”. But
brown me, I love you for your skin that refuses to sunburn
and your clothes that make you sparkle on the dance floor.

I’m queer.
Those of you who have known me for awhile have
seen this as soon as I assess whether or not I can trust you with
this piece of my identity. This girl has pride in her heart, love in
her soul: a queer girl. You don’t see her all the time because
she’s heard about all the ways her love for girls is “abnormal”
and something she’ll “grow out of”. But queer me, I love you for
your rainbow self that makes you love people of all kinds.

Which brings me to Part Two:

To All the Girls I’ve Loved (not just romantically) Before:
I accept you. You’ve been in my life maybe for a few years,
maybe just on and off when you feel like it, but whether I like it
or not, you girls are all a part of me.

To my mom:
You’ve raised me to love my thick body with thick skin because
of all the ways it moves on the dance floor. You’ve raised me to
never forget where I come from. I love you for all the ways
you’ve sacrificed so much to be here.

To my musical idols, Tori Kelly, Beyonce, and recently Ariana
Grande after her single thank u, next:
I feel like God made me sexy, like girls run the world,
like a dangerous woman because of y’all.

To my gay awakening, Stella Yamada played by Hayley Kiyoko in
Lemonade Mouth:
You opened me up to a whole new world.

To the only brown girl in the movies I know, Mo Banjaree played
by Naomi Scott in Lemonade Mouth:
Your hit solo She’s So Gone will forever be my jam.

To my future Peter Kavinsky…Scratch that. Zoe O recently said
that apparently, I am the sweet and sensitive jock that is Peter
Kavinsky from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I totally see it!
Good hair, jock in the theatre world, writes great love
letters…ANYWAY. To my future Lara Jean:
I can’t wait to meet you. I can’t wait to get to know all of your layers,
and for you to know all of mine. It may take a while for us to meet,
but I know I won’t forget the day you reverse your car right into me in a
parking lot. I love you for all of you, or at least, I will.

And to Athena.
I know you’ve been thinking a lot about
unconditional love. And it makes sense…we think “unconditional
love” is a standard, something to be expected. But love with no
conditions is hard to come by. Unconditional love means loving someone
even if they’re mentally ill, or even if they’re gay, even
if they hurt you, even if they flunk out of school, even if they
don’t talk to you for months, even if they end up in jail. It’s not
easy for a lot of people. And Athena, I hope to God, Dumbledore,
Jeff Bezos, or whoever controls the universe, that your Lara Jean
loves you unconditionally. But if not, I’ll learn to. ‘Cause you
taught me love, you taught me patience, you handle pain, and
you turned out amazing. Thank u, next.

If you are a young person or you have a young person in your life who is struggling with body issues, I encourage you to take steps to create a Body Positive environment in you/their home and school community. Write to me at info@thebodypositive.org if you want to discuss how to make this happen, or check out the next facilitator training being hosted for us in Tacoma, WA on April 13-14.