Milestones come in all shapes and sizes. On the eve of her thirtieth birthday, Yvonne Maxwell shares her thoughts on her journey to self-acceptance, discovering her sense of self, and defining what that all means on her terms.
In a matter of hours I turn thirty.
In the months and weeks leading up to my birthday, I have constantly been asked how I feel about it. Cue panic mode, mini existential crisis, and staring at yourself in the mirror asking: “what have I done with my life? What have I achieved?”
As women, we are often reminded of our biological clocks and impending expiration. Family members have often exclaimed “Gosh! You’re 29; you should be settled down by now”. My response to this unwelcome commentary on my life ranges from awkward laughter to my infamous side-eye. But why do we allow these forces and people to influence our journeys and choices?
Why is the focus never on finding and cultivating meaningful connections with people worthy of us?
Why is the focus never on defining who we are, for ourselves?
I’ve had a very turbulent, but amazing journey so far when it comes to self-discovery. However, in the past, I have been guilty of swaying to the influences of other people, particularly in friendships. There have been many instances where I didn’t speak up for myself and what I wanted. Whether it was an opinion on men, fashion, or food; I never seemed to have the courage to speak up. This lead to a cycle of toxic friendships and relationships, with scars still visible to this day. When I finally chose to walk away from those attachments and cut ties, I decided to fight for who I wanted to be. When it comes to friendship and sisterhood, you matter, and you deserve friendships that benefit you and nurture and protect your happiness, as well as your identity and sense of self.
Today, I can honestly say that I have the most UH-MAZING group of sisters around me! These stunning black women have surrounded me with love, security, and strength. They’ve taught me that I should not be afraid to lay out my expectations of friendships. For the first time, I have people in my life who respect who I am choosing to be, actively helping me become the best version of myself. For the first time ever, I have people in my life who let me be the full spectrum of who I am – every tone and every shade.
And healthy friendships are not the only relationships that matter. Finding a partner who fosters your individuality and allows you to be the person you are at every stage of life is important; and although it may sound somewhat utopian, love is out there and can come at any age. I’m recently engaged to a truly exceptional man, whose love and support blows me away each day. Having someone who is in full support of my journey of growth, exploration and self-definition is an amazing feeling. There is a lot of pressure on women to do everything within their power to “keep a man”, have him fed, satisfied and knocked out cold after several rounds of acrobatic sex. Sure! Despite having an amazing man, I have had to teach myself that my wellbeing and needs are important. There may be some superwomen out there who provide this level of care constantly, but I’m not one of them and that’s okay. Sometimes I get headaches. Sometimes, I just can’t be asked. Sometimes, I don’t feel sexy.
In fact, a large part of coming to terms with who I am can be attributed to my physical appearance. I haven’t aged that much on my face (and I pray that the mighty melanin gods continue to bless me), but I’m slowly accepting that my body will change over time. This, for me, means learning to be unafraid to embrace my size and say “this is what I look like; this is me as a curvy black woman, and the world and its standards that say that I’m not beautiful are wrong”. However, I’m also learning to be more honest with myself in regards to how I feel about certain aspects of my body, and taking positive steps where possible towards physical and mental wellbeing. My health must take precedent over any aesthetic ideal. I am still on a journey of self-acceptance, and like many woman, have my good and bad days but it’s easy to get sucked into unhealthy cycles of dieting and excessive exercising when trying to achieve the media’s ideal of the “perfect body”.
I definitely see a correlation between how I feel about my body and my confidence to freely express myself sexually. I recall early on in my relationship feeling very self-conscious and uncomfortable in my nakedness. I’m learning to love my curves and love the fact that my partner loves my curves, which has given me the space to grow and explore my sensuality. My steps to refine my sexual prowess have only been possible because I have a partner who is completely comfortable in his sexuality. He’s not judgmental, he nurtures my desire to explore and grow sexually, and I now feel completely free to express and explore all facets of my sexual desires. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve become unafraid to explore my sexual limits and unleash the freak within. There is a whole world of sex and sensuality out there for the taking (and giving), and what I’m seeing online is a rise of black women taking ownership or their sexuality on their own terms, and owning their sexual experiences. In this freedom comes joy.
And black female joy matters.
There is great importance in living and doing the things that enrich and bring you happiness. Those are the things that really matter and they are what should be documented. Your expression of happiness is a form a protest, it is joy in a world that wants to deprive you of that. Black joy is protest. I find a lot of my happiness in food, and have early memories of cooking with both my mother and Grandma. Food has always signified happiness for me; it has always signified home, community and love, and is something that I hope to continue to use to connect.
The future is open to be redefined over and over again, and you are never too old to change your life. I encourage you as black women to be critical of your own negative thoughts and views of yourself, because sometimes your eyes and mind are not your friends. Be kind to yourself!
So, to anybody who is approaching the age of thirty…do not underestimate the power of self-reflection. Do not be afraid to evaluate the quality of your relationships, or to redefine your terms of love for the people you allow into your life. Do not see age as a limit on how much and what you can achieve. And do not be afraid to challenge your views of success, and where they come from.
Define yourself for yourself.
Yvonne Maxwell is a food writer and food blogger from South London. Catch her on Twitter and Instagram.
Cover Image by Mikela Henry-Lowe.