NaturallyCurly graphic designer Cara has had her fair share of insecurities stemming from childhood. Here, she opens up with me about how she learned to overcome her personal battles and embrace her inner nerd for self-confidence.

My favorite part of myself?

The confidence that I have always had in myself, of knowing who I am and being happy with that. In high school especially, I never felt like I needed to give into peer pressure. I’m not here for someone else's approval. This confidence, I think, is different than confidence in my appearance, but more about being comfortable being alone with myself. I’m comfortable not going along with what other people around me are doing. I’m weird, I’ve always known that I’m weird. It doesn’t bother me at all.

I’m weird, I’ve always known that I’m weird. It doesn’t bother me at all.
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People hate on a woman who has 'too much' confidence because that makes her a bitch. I’ve often been called stand-offish. Passing strangers tell me I should smile. I have never really cared about what other people think more than I value my own opinions, and reactions like this just thicken my skin. In turn, I don’t get caught up in the drama of other people, and I live pretty stress-free.

My personal style is colorful, eclectic, and curated.

I was definitely one of those kids who changed my outfit ten times a day. I have an overly full closet, organized in a rainbow, of course.

I collect things that I like and I make them work with my style. I usually wear comfortable dresses and girly stuff to work and in public, but I also wear very practical clothes at other times. In the morning when we walk our dogs, I am usually wearing rain boots and sweatpants and a t-shirt that I’ve owned since high school. And my look is pretty basic and utilitarian whenever I am camping. One time I bought a pair of pants at an REI garage sale that I was convinced I needed. They had zippers to turn them into capri pants—I never wore them. Those outfits are limited to less public events.

As an adult, I look back on myself as a 'tween'--which is not a term that existed when I was one, by the way--and know that I was super cute and I love and appreciate that now.

But I was a nerd, I still am. As a kid, that makes you an outsider and more of a target.

I had glasses, big goofy teeth, a super flat chest and knobby knees. In fifth grade, probably before I started puberty, this boy asked me, “do you even wear a bra?!” He kind of brushed my shoulder to check, too. I was very late to the game on shaving my legs and wearing make-up. Preppy clothes were totally in and I didn’t have any of that.

I always felt like an ugly duckling, but I’ve grown into myself now and am glad to have had the challenges I faced when I was younger. They made me who I am and I love myself. Plus, people are usually surprised by my age now—the blessing of being a late-bloomer.

It’s complicated. I’m human—I’m not always perfectly happy with myself.

Some days I'll have a really good hair day, but most days my hair seems hopeless and frustrating. I like my eyebrows, but they disappear in the light and I look like a gingery vampire. My skin is very fair, which I’ve become OK with--except for when I just look blue and see-through. I sunburn very easily. In the past year or two I have noticed that my forehead wrinkles more, and that I am starting to get a little belly that I didn't have before. I’ve been pretty much the same weight for fifteen years without any effort, and seeing changes in myself like that is something to adjust to.

I look to older women to inspire me.

I remember seeing a woman when I was 16—her husband was a regular customer of mine when I worked at Subway. He was just a normal old guy, but his wife came in one day with him. She was amazing—her hair was silvery white and she was wearing a long purple dress and matching sun hat. I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. And so memorable. I am sure she had wrinkles on her face and other signs of age, but she was so much more than that. When I see a woman like Helen Mirren—intelligent, sassy and confident—I don’t see anything but beauty. So I reflect that upon myself and embrace my body as it is.

...I am starting to get a little belly that I didn't have before. I’ve been pretty much the same weight for fifteen years without any effort, and seeing changes in myself like that is something to adjust to.
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There has been a bigger effort in the mainstream media to be more inclusive, like the L’Oreal commercial with lots of melanin and Hari Nef in it, the boy CoverGirl model, or the Airbnb Super Bowl commercial clearly protesting current national issues. Sizing for models is becoming less standard. I get excited to see a model wearing her Hijab. But there’s also a need for more of that, always.

And there’s still stuff that focuses on people’s insecurities, rather than embracing them.

There’s a teeth-whitening commercial that really gets to me. A women deletes photos of her and her friend because she says her teeth aren’t white enough--they’re totally white--and her friend holds a tissue to her mouth. My teeth are not perfectly white and they definitely don’t pass the 'tissue test.' I think that this standard is dumb and unrealistic. The women are so non-genuine and caught up with holding themselves to this arbitrary standard. And they come across as super ditzy. It's [having] standards like that which are solidified by putting them in a commercial in that way.

You, Devri, have said this before, but Instagram’s algorithm kind of allows me to curate what I see. My feed is a lot of talented, diverse women, dogs, nature and knives (my boyfriend makes knives, so it's a big part of my life). I feel like there are better relationships between women who are strangers now because of social media. Like, the movie Clueless portrayed such catty women, but 2017 feels more constructive. It seems like love is reciprocated more. Women supporting women is really big right now.

My boyfriend used to get annoyed with me for my non-response to him telling me that I'm pretty.

He probably still does, he just expects me not to say anything now. It’s not that I don’t appreciate him saying it, I’ve just never valued my looks more than my brain. But he does compliment me both ways, and I’m grateful for all of it.

I'm so much more comfortable giving a compliment than I was when I was younger. And receiving one. It’s easy to take a compliment about clothes I’ve picked for myself, but harder when it’s more about me. Even the other day I was complimented on my hair by coworkers and it was hard for me to just say thank you because I wasn’t happy with my hair at that moment.

I take a lot of alone time for myself. That’s my biggest piece of self-care.

Thrift shopping by myself is one of my go-to things. I’m big on doing arts & crafts, but I’m never shy to be lazy and watch Netflix all weekend rather than doing anything productive. My boyfriend I hike The Green Belt most weekends. We take our dogs on long walks every morning. The both of us recharge by being in nature. I like to pick flowers while we’re out.

Knowledge is power.

Knowing that you are beautiful is powerful. Other people acknowledging your presence as a beautiful person reflects upon everybody you come across. And if not right away, the more exposure people get of something, the more it will become accepted.

It’s like that commercial, where one person smiles at a stranger, and then it has a domino effect. Hate comes from a place of frustration and lack of point of view. Changing your perspective, thinking about a story from where someone else is standing is always enlightening. I had When We Rise on in the background the other night while I was working, and they showed the emergence of AIDS in 1970’s San Francisco culture. My experience with this is in retrospect, without knowing the initial confusion this had on everyone. The show expressed the emotions of all sides; you could see why everyone was scared. 

Changing your perspective, thinking about a story from where someone else is standing is always enlightening.
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How do you cultivate inner confidence through your 'imperfections'?

We'd love to know. Tell us on Facebook and share your experience below.

Follow Cara on Instagram @cuur

Photos by @Monique_Rdz

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