When Nerieqa asked me to capture her for her 38th birthday, I was so excited to work with her! This girl oozes confidence, has an amazing sense of style and a magnetic personality that draws people to her. As we delved deeper into the why of this session, she shared with me that she has not always been the confident girl that enjoys life, mentors children and loves the skin she's in. She wanted this photography session to celebrate the woman she has become in spite of the lies and ugliness she experienced as a child.
Nerieqa recalls the very vivid memories below:
"I grew up with a family that worshiped body image more than anything," recalled Nerieqa. "I was constantly criticized by my father, his friends, my aunts and their friends and my older sister. I was constantly called fat, asked why I didn't look like other family members and embarrassed in public just because I wasn't stick-straight like the rest of my family."
My dad used to refer to me as 'fat girl", or "this fat one here," and my older sister teased and put me down from the ages of 8-22. We attended the same elementary school and she would always hit me and call me "fat and sloppy" in front of her friends which caused them to start bullying me. My older sister that was supposed to protect me, allowed me to be bullied by her friends, and contributed with name calling and shaming.
I remember just a little after my 17th birthday, I went for a walk with my sister, her boyfriend at the time and his cousin who liked me. My sister stopped at a Chinese restaurant and bought chicken nuggets, and after she got them, we continued on with our walk. I asked her to taste one of the nuggets because I didn't know that there was such a thing as Chinese chicken nuggets, so I was curious as to what they looked and tasted like. My sister ignored me, and when I asked her again, she threw the whole container at me and said that I was a fat, greedy, slob then she smothered the sauce all in my face and I ended up getting it everywhere on my dress and all of this was in front of her boyfriend and his cousin. I ran home crying, cleaned myself up and cried myself to sleep that night. I never told anyone what she'd done. I later learned that envy and jealousy is what caused her to be that way. She's no longer being negative towards me because she knows she'll get checked quick.
My aunt, (dad's sister), used to watch my younger sister and I after school, and she used to give my sister food to eat after school, but only fed me plain crackers, (3 or 4), and water. I had to ride her exercise bike because my "fat ass" didn't need food. Every chance she got she told me that I was too fat, that nobody likes a fat girl, and that nobody would ever want me. Every single time she saw me she had something awful to say about my weight.
As I got older I prayed and asked God to help me to get over her negative words that had plagued my life and I really started feeling good about seeing her again but years later when I saw her, as soon as I walked in the house, she looked at me and as opposed to greeting me with a hug, the first thing out of her mouth was "Ugh, oh my God..you're still fat!" My uncle tried to lighten the mood by hugging me and picking me up and she told him to put me down because I would break his back. She said, "Nobody can handle all that weight on a woman, its disgusting!"
While things likes this may just be words to some, they completely destroyed my confidence starting at the age of 8. I have always struggled with body image and the way I look. When I look in the mirror I still hear the things that were said to me.
I've made a conscious decision with the help of God to stop shaming myself, and to accept that this is the way I was made, and that I'm really not fat!! I'm none of the things others said. I can finally tell myself that I'm a beautiful queen that was wonderfully created by my Master and that I'm perfect just the way I am because He doesn't make mistakes. I thank God for deliverance. It's taken 16 years, but I'm finally letting go!
Moving past the horrific memories didn't happen overnight for Nerieqa. One major contributor to her healing has been forgiveness. "I decided to forgive them," she said. "Even though it still hurts, I made a conscious decision to forgive, and begin my healing. I'm still talked about, and my aunts communicate with all of my siblings and cousins except me. I don't think I'll ever understand why I am treated this way, but there are some things in life that we'll never have an answer for."
Even though years have passed, the lies from her past occasionally threaten to consume her mind. But she tells herself, "The devil is a lie!"
"Everyday, I look in the mirror I tell myself, "Nerieqa, you were fearfully and wonderfully made; You are not any of the things others say you are; You are one of a kind; You are blessed; You have purpose!" And just before I walk out the door, I look back in the mirror, give myself a wink, and say, "Alright girl, let's get it!"
So while this photo session marked a milestone of turning 38, the greater significance of this year for Nerieqa is that she is finally letting go of all of the negativity of her past! "What I want the camera to capture most is my renewed confidence," she said. "I no longer have to cover my "big" arms, or be ashamed of my stretch marks or love handles, or worry about what others are saying when I see them whispering. I'm letting go of it all!"