During my first semester of college at UMass Boston, I was faced with a tough housing situation: one that left me hating myself for being so different from my other roommates. I took this as reminder of how imperfect I believed I was. I had felt like I had completely lost myself, and it was during this time I learned about Strong Women, Strong Girls. So, I decided to take the jump and become a mentor for one reason: to inspire young girls to embrace their individuality and beauty, something I was never fully able to do. It took months of re-discovery to realize how incorrect my original thoughts actually were. Something I couldn’t imagine doing without my involvement with SWSG.
I still remember the first day I mentored; I was pleasantly surprised to see the young girls, they looked so optimistic, worry-free and open to making new friends. However, mentoring was not always filled with laughs and perfect scenarios. I remember one specific session when a young girl was upset about something. I decided to take her aside and have a conversation about what was going on. She slightly opened up and told me about how she was being bullied by some kids at school. I told her to ignore their statements, and that she was a beautiful young girl no matter what anyone said. She stayed quiet for a minute, then became enraged and repeatedly claimed that I had called her ugly. At the time, I was shocked to see her reaction and was taken aback by the response. How could this young girl believe such a thing about herself?
Later, I took some time to question what had happened. Where did I go wrong? I then realized what was actually going on: she was holding herself up to some measure of what beauty was and felt she didn’t compare, just as I did when I was younger. Like when my mother would assure me that I looked fine in that white dress, yet I never believed her words; I always assumed she had to say that. Honestly, my struggles with self-esteem and confidence didn’t start in college after the bad roommate situation; they actually began around the time I entered middle school at age 10. I admit, the words “I am ugly, fat, and nobody likes me” repeated in my head quite often for years. And, unfortunately, my mentee and I are not the only ones who think this way either. This negativity towards our own body is actually a common perspective for females. I always hid it very well; I was a strong believer of “fake it until you make it.” However, I never felt like I made it… or ever could. In retrospect, I now realize that my approach to the situation may not have been the best, but at the moment I was focused on trying to help her positively change her perception.
At times, I still find myself going back to my old thoughts. However, the strong network of women and girls in SWSG reminds me of who I have become. Within the first semester of mentoring, I decided to apply to be a media coordinator. In this position, I promoted my chapter’s events and program sessions through our various social mediums. I made sure that my friends and peers on campus and outside of campus were aware of SWSG and the impact it was and is making on the community. In the following program year, I became a Co-Chapter Director, which serves as my current role. In this role, I oversee the mentor body of the chapter and guide mentors in their executive board role to make sure they are provided high quality program. I also have a Professional mentor through SWSG’s Strong Leaders Program, and she provides me with great insight and advice on life, college, and my future career. While being a Chapter Director, I’ve gained a new perspective on how to be a leader and mentor to my peers. I’ve fostered and gain new skills such as being as having positive assertion, organization, and teamwork. All of these skills and more have helped me be more prepared for my future. My journey of self-discovery and acceptance is nowhere near complete. I may not have flawless hair or say the right thing all the time, but every day I find beauty in my imperfections, and I hope to help others do the same.
This post was written by current Co-Chapter Director and mentor, Charlayne Delgado, a student at University of Massachusetts-Boston. Charlayne served as the Spring 2015 Program Intern with the SWSG Boston office.