If you haven't already, we invite you to meet Sanam, the Desi girl who starred in Rihanna's "BBHMM" music video, and stole the show. Handpicked by RiRi after the star spotted her on Instagram, Sanam has been in the limelight for being a "real girl who is now BFFs with a global pop star." We're impressed by Sanam's ability to speak beauty truths and just keep it real. So impressed that we've decided to bring her on as a contributor. In her new column, Sanam will talk about her struggles with self-love, how important beauty is for forging a path toward self-acceptance, and some other badass babes who are making waves in the world. Above all else, she's going to keep it real, raw, and refreshing as she lives her best life and takes us along for the ride. It feels like it was eons ago when I was introduced to the world as Rihanna’s sidekick in a controversial music video. Really, it’s only been about three weeks. Since then, I’ve become somewhat of an internet sensation, started the process of moving across the country, held myself together through a breakup, kept my day job, and somehow still managed to find time to fill in my brows and put on lipstick every morning. All the attention has taught me that people either love me or hate me for my sassy (or obnoxious, depending on who you ask) personality and shameless narcissism. And among the millions of questions I get every day on social media — excluding the ones about my armpits — the one that seems to pop up over and over again is, “How are you SO confident?” When Refinery29 decided to give me a platform to write a regular column, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to answer that question and talk about something that people shy away from: investing in self-love. Most people, whether they discovered me after the video or have followed me for years, probably think that my unabashed need to remind myself and the rest of the world how great I am on a daily basis must come naturally. It doesn’t. It’s been a 24-year struggle of confronting my physical and emotional insecurities. Like most girls my age, especially girls of color, I grew up hating everything about myself before I even started junior high. Everything about me was wrong, from the way I dressed to my eyebrows and even my name. Everything about me is still wrong to a lot of people. I don’t know at what point in my adolescence I realized that simply not giving a fuck and loving myself anyway could change everything for me. It’s such a basic solution to most self-esteem issues that a lot of people don’t even believe me when I suggest it.
Say you’re a 21-year-old Indian girl with no college education and no money. You just got out of a long, abusive relationship with someone who made you feel pretty worthless, and to top it all off, you’re now living on your parents' couch after a suicide attempt. You don’t really have any friends or job prospects, or anywhere to go. You had some semblance of who you were before all of this, but you’ve lost that along with all ambition or desire to do anything besides sleep all day and drink and eat Hot Cheetos in bed all night. Basically, you’ve hit rock bottom. What now? If you’re wondering who I’m talking about, surprise, bitches! It’s me! So how did I recover from such a terrible shit-show of a year? I told myself I was pretty and smart, even when I didn’t feel like I was. I put on makeup and did my hair just to take selfies and flex my beauty on the worldwide web. I sat on the bathroom sink and stared at myself in the mirror until I could actually look at myself for more than two minutes at a time. This bit of advice might sound dumb, but if you try it you’ll come to find that most people can’t even do it. The first time I tried, I started picking away at everything that was wrong with my appearance and burst into tears after 30 seconds of this kind of intense self-criticism. But eventually, I stopped making self-deprecating jokes and wasting time wishing that I looked like other people or that I had a smaller nose or smoother skin. I listened to a lot of Trina and Lil’ Kim and Junglepussy. I used social media to find other women who were focused on investing in self-love and self-care. After years of feeling not good enough, I lied to myself and reminded myself how wonderful I was every day — until it wasn’t a lie anymore. I focused on me, and only me. It takes so much to unlearn and dismantle the shit that is ingrained in us as little girls. To be modest, to graciously accept whatever mediocre men come along, to wear more makeup or not wear so much makeup, not to be too loud or take too many selfies. In 2015, when we have made so much progress with women’s rights and have online communities for strong women to share their stories, I’m still expected to be humble and shave my armpits to appease boring, terribly dressed men on Instagram who don’t have shit to offer but an opinion no one asked them for. Fuck being humble. Put yourself first. You matter the most. I’m not saying I don’t have bad days, days when I lay in bed and don’t shower and feel more potato than human. Days when I want to curl up into a ball and cry rather than be a functioning adult. Bad hair days, bad face days, bad life days. But the older I get and the more I love and care about myself, the fewer and far between those days are. Self-worth isn’t going to come from anyone but yourself. The most beautiful people are the ones who radiate comfort in their own skin and an unapologetic confidence. That’s the glow we should all be aspiring to.