I received a text from my new hairdresser before the appointment. HD: What do you want to do with your hair? Can you tell me a bit more about your hair type and plan? Me: I am from India so think about dark, thick, wavy Indian hair. I would like to get layers and subtle highlights. I arrived at the salon and our first discussion went like this: HD: what color highlights would you like? I can see some blonde and auburn would look pretty since you have a natural red tinge. We can specifically color the problem areas, I mean, the few grays that are peeking. Me: No, I like the way my hair looks. I love the dark color so don’t want a huge contrast. Warm caramel maybe? Something of a peekaboo effect and no I am not looking to hide grays. This sounds like just a normal conversation we have with our new hairdressers but it was more than normal for me. For years (decades?) I disliked my curly hair. I always wanted sleek hair like my sister. And here I was finally accepting my hair and by extension- accepting myself. For those of us who grew up in India, constant comparison about everything (from our grades to our looks) has been a part of growing up! When you grow up with older sisters who are more beautiful and outgoing, it is even harder to love yourself the way you are. Today, I may exude confidence. When someone meets me and talks to me, they probably won’t see the vulnerable little girl within me. But as I am raising two children of my own, I am also learning to encounter and work on my own vulnerabilities. I have thought about why I always wanted to be like my sister. Because she was outgoing and during our teenage years, she used to get all the attention from outsiders. She had tons of friends, she was the life of the party. And me? I was the quiet, nerdy little sister who will always have a book to keep herself occupied. I was the one who her friends will look at and say, "your sister is pretty, why doesn’t she dress up like you"? It wasn’t that I didn’t care about dresses, but my sister would always choose the better outfits for herself. We were together in college and my friends were mostly just her friends. In graduate school, we went our own ways and the friendships I developed are the ones that are dear to me. I grew out of my sister’s shadow and started experimenting with my own style and found what I liked. My sister and I talked about this during my recent India visit and I was blown away with her side of the story. She mentioned that she always wanted to pick the best outfits and look the best because I always got all the attention from family for being the smartest in the extended circle. She felt vulnerable around me because I never failed an exam- whatever it was, and she needed to be better at something. I had never thought this way. We all have insecurities about things that probably only we know and we think that we are the only ones dealing with the insecurities. However, the truth is- we all are fighting different demons. For the last several years, I have slowly started to work on myself. I am learning to love myself- the true and authentic me. There are times when I fail miserably. Like, when someone here in IL said-“Oh stop boasting about yourself, you got out of a bad marriage, that’s all”. Honestly, it hit me hard. Why a stranger’s opinion would make an impact? I have thought about it and I understand that for me, my divorce was just a part of my life that is over but for most people, that’s where they focus. They try to hit us where it might hurt and by doing so they perhaps feel better about themselves. Or, just want to remind us that our lives are not perfect. Of course, our lives are not perfect because perfection is an illusion! And, that’s what brings me to this topic of self-love and personal growth. I am learning to understand that my life is my own with all the imperfections in it and I love it just the way it is. I have learned this intense love from my children- they love their mom with all her imperfections! If they love me the way I am so why can’t I? Self-love is not about flowers and spas, travel to exotic places, or date nights, I think to me it is accepting me and letting go of self-critics and judgments. Let go of the internalized stuff and liberate that little girl so she can fly. The journey of self-love has also been a part of personal growth. According to Thrive Global- “Personal growth is the process by which a person recognizes themselves and continually develops to reach his or her full potential.” I have been on this journey of emotional, financial, social, and spiritual growth. As I am growing more confident in my skin, I also feel the maturity that comes with experiences (and maybe age), success in professional life, financial stability, helps with the path towards happiness. I feel that physical and emotional well-being are intimately tied with self-love. Learning to Love ourselves is the most powerful thing to heal the past and work through our perceived limitations/beliefs and realize the true self. Once we accept ourselves, accepting others becomes easier and we are able to love unconditionally. This is what I have learned from my children, especially my 6-year old daughter. She would always say-“Mommy, I love you, and daddy, and brother, and myself!” It is a great reminder that before we love others, we have to love ourselves! Happy 2022! And may we all grow to be less critical of ourselves and love unconditionally!