“A succulent wild woman is one of any age who feels free to fully express herself in every dimension of her life.” ~ SARK (Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy)
I hope to be a succulent, wild woman one day — not wild in the sense of violent, but wild like the ocean, wild like a tree or a sunrise. Wild, as in existing in my natural state, being who I was born to be. I want to live fully and freely in the expression of myself, not caged by feelings of inferiority, not chained to needing the approval of others, not boxed in by fear, gagged by insecurities, or limited by an imagination that has atrophied due to cynicism.
Once upon a time, I was a succulent, wild child. Aside from the gap between my two front teeth, there was nothing I was insecure about. I knew I was loved. I knew I was smart. I knew I was fast and strong. I had an unshakable belief in God, and I could see my own beauty without feeling devalued by the prettiness of others.
I was bold. I was not intimidated by strangers or scared to speak in front of a crowd. I sought out the spotlight. I wanted to be seen. I wanted to be heard. I was never too timid to try. I wasn’t afraid to fail. I may have had some delusions of grandeur (like thinking my hyper-flat feet could carry me to a career as a professional ballerina), but mostly, I was simply proud of what I was good at and not unduly or excessively worried about those things that came harder to me.
I was a confident child. I relished my strength and speed. I’d challenge anyone to a race and enjoy my victory — especially against boys. I loved school. I loved learning. I didn’t worry about who or how many of my classmates might be smarter than I was. Not knowing everything didn’t feel like failure. It felt like an invitation to discovery.
I was a succulent, wild girl, confident and strong of spirit. I expected to grow up into a succulent, wild woman, but puberty sent me on a very long and multi-tangential detour.
My body began to change against my will. It swelled and widened and didn’t grow tall enough (in my opinion). As my cup size increased, so did my self-consciousness. As I started to find hair in new and bizarre places, I started to lose my ability to make mistakes without plummeting into the depths of self-recrimination. I wanted to blend in instead of stand out. The succulent, wild child I once was began to change — not grow, but mutate and wilt — into an insecure, hyper-perfectionistic, affirmation-dependent teenager and young adult.
Rather than accepting my developing body, I engaged in a cold war against it. I wanted a smaller chest, leaner legs, and more feminine arms. I began to feel embarrassed by my musculature and strength. I cursed my thighs for rubbing together. I covered my veiny arms. Much like my self-confidence, my handwriting became very, very small.
Surrounded by a sea of Caucasian schoolmates (the only black girl in my class until the sixth grade), I desperately searched for some sign that my black was beautiful — though deep down, I suspected it was not, since none of the cute boys ever asked me out.
It has taken deep and persistent work to undo the self-inflicted damage of years of insecurity — years of emotional and psychological self-abuse and self-loathing. I have had to bottle-feed my self-confidence like it’s a runt that’s been weaned too young. I have had to move against my inner current of doubt that flows away from challenges and potential failures or embarrassments. I have had to let the perception of trusted family and friends help me better see myself. I have had to learn how to accept massive relapses and celebrate every modicum of growth in the pursuit of who I am.
I cannot say that I have found my way to full and unapologetic succulent, wild womanhood. It is a goal I am perpetually pursuing, a lesson I am constantly learning and relearning. I must regularly recommit myself to being at peace presenting my true self to the world, to not allowing the opinions of others to affect my self worth, to being unafraid of seeming (or being) uncool or wrong.
I will grow into the woman that is really inside of me. I will speak my mind honestly — and even admit when I don’t know something. I will express all of my emotions without worrying that I’ll seem weak or unsound. I will find my worth within myself and in the embrace of my God, rather than in the approval or applause of others. I will love every part of my body because every part of my body makes me whole.
I will become a succulent, wild woman — fully myself, completely free. I will become a succulent, wild woman. I owe it to the succulent, wild child — that dauntless girl — I used to be.[Headline image: The black-and-white photograph shows a child playing outside, clutching onto a dandelion puff.]