When I question my identity and what it means to me, the first thing that comes to mind is how I see myself. My next step tries to narrowly fit myself into a box. Simply put, I’m a heterosexual Black woman from Los Angeles. That felt like it, but it couldn’t possibly be. I know that there’s more to my identity and how I see myself. I also think that a big part of my identity is how I interact with people around me. They don’t just see me like that … right?
Deciding on the parameters of my identity was one of the most difficult challenges of trying to define identity. I struggled with finding my own because of where I grew up and the childhood role models that I wanted to be. Growing up, none of the people I admired looked like me, spoke like or even had a similar background as me.
My parents grew up in poor, primarily Black neighborhoods, and their experiences heavily shaped the ways I interacted with people, money and food. Although not the product of new money, I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and went to predominantly white grade schools. At a young age, my story quickly became the story of people who worked until it physically hurt to stand — a nasty habit I’ve picked up, too.
I had concluded (and this is something that I still struggle with) that the only way people were going to take me seriously was if I worked hard. I had learned from the media that what I looked like simply wasn’t enough, and I was bullied for being my authentic self. Soon, the notion became that I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin and that I wasn’t good enough.
Quickly, Georgia became Gia to appeal to those who found my name too “exotic.” I killed my natural hair and coily afro for harsh chemicals that made it straight. I even dyed my hair blonde. That was a personal tragedy in and of itself.
An important realization in my identity was how much I relate to Princess Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog” a little too much to be considered normal. I promise you I know the entire movie word-for-word and have running conspiracy theories about it. It’s truly not that deep, but to me, it is. I first saw that movie in theaters when I was seven and couldn’t understand why I loved it so much. For starters, the choreography and soundtrack are incredible, and for the first time, I could relate to a character on screen that looks like me. But more importantly, I valued how hardworking Tiana is and her drive to keep going no matter what. She’s incredibly different from Snow White and Cinderella, and for the first time, I felt like I didn’t need to be “saved.”
My identity is nowhere near as cut-and-paste as I originally thought — nor was the challenge of trying to put myself in a box easy. I learned this when I learned that my identity also consists of things about me that don’t show on the surface. I have a big heart, refuse to let past actions define me and show compassion to those around me. In all its complexities, identity cannot be easily summed up by my height, race or age.
It took me several days to sit down and begin this article because I truly struggled with the concept of identity. I don’t necessarily believe that it involved any soul-searching or a quest across the Atlantic to find who I was. I looked up — at the people I surround myself with, the family I come from and what adulthood looks like. Seven-year-old Gia would not believe where 19-year-old Georgia stands, who she is or that she finally feels beautiful.
I don’t just feel beautiful in my skin, but beauty in who I am. There’s so much to me, my environment and the people around me, that it was going to be difficult to sum it up in a certain amount of words — but I found it.