How I Stopped Hating on Myself and Started Being the Best Version of Me

If you don’t already follow Stephanie Yeboah, aka Nerd About Town on Instagram, I’d highly urge you to. Her fashion energy is infectious, her advice is solid and her candid nature is truly impressive in a world full of fakes. Stephanie has become a beacon of body acceptance and a confidence guru; you can tell by the clothes she wears and the vibe she gives off. She couldn’t be any more suited for this month’s theme of being the boldest, bravest version of yourself. We asked this rather stylish “nerd” to tell us a thing or two about her journey, and trust me—it will have you batting away those negative thoughts about yourself in no time. Life is too short, and summer is too!

On Stephanie Yeboah: ASOS Curve Kimono Dress (£65)

Did you know that once upon a time in 2003, I, Stephanie Yeboah, was a grunger who wore nothing but bandanas, skater trainers and gothic-punk trousers? Attending a secondary school that had little to no uniform policy meant that it was extremely tricky for me to navigate through puberty. Not to mention that I was trying to establish my personal sense of style while being fat and having virtually no trendy, age-appropriate pieces of clothing available to me.

Seeing as the only items of clothing I could get at the time were oversized, the grunge look was my uniform for the entirety of my secondary school life. Wearing these pieces made me feel accepted within those circles, and eventually, I started listening to the music and hanging out in the grunge scene. Looking back, it’s interesting to note how my lack of outfit choice had such a huge impact on my identity at the time.

On Stephanie Yeboah: Elvi Anise Dress (£78)

I had always been a fashion girl. I started collecting issues of Vogue and Elle at age 12. I practically idolised Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, and my after-school activities included spending four hours watching the catwalk shows on Fashion TV every day. I loved the idiosyncrasies of fashion. I lived for Christian Dior’s Haute Couture line, and Mary Katrantzou’s vibrant, illuminating designs were (and still are) my absolute favourites. At the time, however, I was far too scared to delve into the realms of self-expression via fashion. Not only was I incredibly insecure and meek due to being bullied intensely at school, but there was also a limited supply of pieces I could get in my size. There were no such things as plus-size models back in the day, and trendy clothing never went beyond a size 16.

On Stephanie Yeboah: In the Style dress; Simply Be boots

I continued wearing oversized, frumpy clothes until the end of the sixth form, and it wasn’t until my second year of university that things began to change. I realised that I had spent the majority of my childhood and adolescence hiding. I hid my body consistently because it was what I had been taught to do by society. If you can’t be bothered to work out and become slim, we won’t be bothered to make clothes in your size is how I felt the media spoke to me. I created my blog in 2008 as a way to document the things I enjoyed doing at the time, however, as I still had no access to the clothes I really wanted to wear, I concentrated my efforts in becoming a beauty blogger.

Around this time, I was still considerably insecure about my body while suffering from depression, and on a bid to lose four stone in order to have the “bikini body” I wanted for my birthday holiday, I snapped. I explored and tried every diet I could find online—I bought laxatives, starved myself and developed bulimia along the way. However, I lost the weight. On holiday, the penny finally dropped. I had the body I had always wanted, but my mental health had suffered greatly for it. I felt absolutely disgusted and ashamed of the methods I had used to lose the weight and realised that I was intentionally making myself suffer for the approval of people who didn’t even know me. I put my body through a horrible, labour-intensive feat when all it was doing was trying to keep me alive. I was punishing myself for not having the body society wanted me to have.

On Stephanie Yeboah: ASOS sunglasses

Upon my return, I decided that I was no longer going to punish my body. I then made the promise to start loving my body and treating it with respect and kindness. I decided that I was going to adorn my body with clothes that I felt good in. I decided I was going to show my body off because that’s what you do when you’re proud of something, right? It was by happy coincidence that ASOS decided to release its first Curve collection during my epiphany, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I created a fashion section on my blog and started uploading full-length photos of myself wearing the clothes I finally wanted to wear: the mesh bodies, the pencil skirts, my beloved crop tops and every single blooming print and vibrant colourway imaginable. The journey from wearing oversized T-shirts and denim flares to now wearing peplum skirts and Bardot crop tops was a journey I never thought I would ever go through as a plus-size woman. With the rise of plus-size influencers (and with the kind of community I’m in of beautiful, confident women shaping the industry), there’s been an amazing shift within fashion to become more size-inclusive. It is a wonderful feeling to know that the young people of today have choices when it comes to finding clothes that speak to them and help mould their identities.

On Stephanie Yeboah: Simple Be Sequin Kimono (£59) and Sequin Shorts (£35)

The industry still has an exceptionally long way to go before it can truly be considered diverse. Body positivity is still a buzzy word at the moment, and it is a movement meant to help encourage those whose bodies fall outside the realms of what mainstream society would call “beautiful” to love themselves and help uplift others. However, it still has a race and body-type problem that prevents others from truly living their best lives.

The mainstream body-positivity movement typically celebrates those who are white and traditionally attractive. It tends to focus on those who wear a size 12 or 16 and are hourglass-shaped. However, the movement tends to ignore marginalised people. People of colour who are not hourglass shaped, wear a size 24 or bigger and who are visibly fat are often left out of the conversation. They are the people who need body positivity the most.

On Stephanie: ASOS Curve dress; ASOS shoes and sunglasses

It’s going to take a long time to reach a point where every body is considered equal and important, but until that time comes, there are steps we can take to help disrupt the status quo and live unapologetically.

1. Love yourself loudly. I do this by wearing pieces that make me feel amazing—regardless of what people have to say about it. If you want to wear booty shorts and a mesh bodysuit, do it. If you want to wear a colourful headwrap with a body-con dress and sandals, do it! The key is to be fearless and steadfast in your choices while still being comfortable. It’s the key to being confident.

2. Take up space. Back in the day when I would be on the bus, no one would ever sit next to me. When people did, though, I would try and contort my body to make me look as small as possible in order to accommodate the person next to me and make them feel comfortable. What we have to keep in mind is that whether you are fat or slim, tall or short, you have a right to be here. You should never have to make yourself uncomfortable in order to make someone else feel better about themselves. Whether that’s just being your general fat self on the bus or speaking out about a cause you believe in, take up space because you are just as deserving of it as everyone else is.

On Stephanie: Elvi co-ords

3. Use your privilege to help others. Unfortunately, we live in a society that generally only listens to the opinions and thoughts of white consumers, so a way in which we can combat this is for white people within the industry to help uplift the feelings, opinions and perspectives of people of colour. Whether it’s by simply retweeting a tweet; hiring a person of colour at a casting agency, marketing department or as a model/influencer; or speaking out about injustice, it can help make life a bit fairer for those of us whose voices are seldom heard.

4. Understand the power of conditioning. From birth, we are exposed to a specific series of images in our media that reinforce the attractiveness of an unattainable ideal of female beauty. We are constantly affronted with photoshopped images of celebrities who embody these traits in an effort to make us feel worthless and insecure so that we buy more products.

On Stephanie: ASOS Curve bikini

If you’re starting your journey to self-love and being your most vibrant now, I have two key ideas to get you going.

1. Acknowledge that your body is not bad. My fatness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. People care about my fat body because we have created these invisible structures like capitalism, misogyny and colonialism, which teach us which bodies are good and which are bad. The problem is that they’re wrong, friends. The reason people have issues with my body is not that my body is bad. As writer Glenn Marla once said, “There is no wrong way to have a body.”

On Stephanie: ASOS Curve shirt and Tile-Print Jeans (£35)

2. Say nice things to yourself. Here are some positive affirmations that have helped me on this journey. Repeat these to yourself in meditation or say them out loud in the mirror. At first, this might be difficult and some tears might be shed (trust me). Just know that whatever happens, this is all part of your healing and growth.

I am enough.

I am beautiful.

I am unique.

I love and respect my body (also, my mind and spirit).

I am more than my body.

My body is a safe, happy place.

I reject artificial standards of beauty that do not serve me.

I love myself unconditionally.

I see the beauty in all living things.

The journey to self-love is just that: a journey. As with all journeys, it can take a long time to get there. We can trip up, go the wrong way or even fall stagnant for a while. Sometimes, we have to try and figure out just where the heck we’re going, but eventually, our compass will kick back into gear and we’ll get to our destination.