Welcome to the “I Hate Serena Club.” Middle school girls can be catty, but I never expected my best friends would start a club entirely devoted to shredding the little self confidence I had as a young girl. Feeling the pain of that betrayal, I ran to the one woman I knew who would be able to make sense of it all: my mom. While my tears soaked her cheek, she ran her fingers through my hair and consoled me. She showed me her forearm, tugged at her skin, and said to me, “These things will happen. You’re very sensitive, but you need to develop a thick skin.”
When I was 13 years old at summer camp, a prepubescent boy called me fat and his entire group of friends laughed along. I could feel the heat rise into my cheeks and the tears well in my eyes. My heroic friend from arts and crafts swooped in to save the day, taking my hand and guiding me on a long walk to cool down. I hysterically sobbed in her arms, crying to her about how much I hated myself. She was the wisest 13 year old I had ever met. She looked me right in my eyes and told me the single most important advice I’ve received in my life: “In order for people love you, you have to learn to love yourself.” It seemed so simple... but I didn’t even know where to start.
That boy’s means words followed me back to New York after camp. I would stare into my full-length mirror naked and cry. I wanted to look like the majority of my friends who were stick thin, but I had rolls and a tummy. At the time, I couldn’t understand why I was given the body that I had. Through all of my negativity and self-doubt, my mom never failed to give me positive affirmations. She would tell me that my body was beautiful, and that my feelings were a completely normal part of growing up. She explained that my body would continue to change and take shape, and that I would learn to love it. She placed a shower curtain in my bathroom with motivational phrases, such as “I love myself,” “Naked and Happy,” and “Don’t I look good?” I didn’t realize how much of an impact those words would have into my adult life.
I remember the first night of college, my two friends wore matching striped dresses that wrapped tightly around their thin bodies. I looked in the mirror, and all I saw was how my loose dress hid my curves. I remember feeling envious of them, and feeling as if I would never be able to wear something like that with confidence. Later, when we went out dancing, I felt invisible. I was supposed to be reinventing myself; instead, I brought my insecurities from high school with me to college. Something must have clicked at that bar —maybe it was the second round of fireball shots — because I remember this clear feeling of being sick of letting my perception of others’ opinions control how I felt about myself. College gave me the opportunity for a fresh start. So where to begin?
I’m not particularly sure what compelled my next move: I was a new college freshman, but I somehow had the courage to walk into a pre-game, beeline it to the first person I locked eyes with, stretch out my hand, and say, “I’m Serena Fucking Kerrigan. Who are you?” Maybe it was because of my obsession with Lady Gaga, who created a persona for herself that made her feel beautiful and strong. Or maybe it was because I loved the way “fucking” rolled right off my tongue.
When questioned, I told everyone that I legally changed my middle name to “Fucking” when was 18. Some believed it. Others didn’t. Many were entertained by my moniker, whereas some wrote me off as extra or arrogant. But that didn’t matter. Whenever I felt insecure, I turned to my persona, SFK, which gave me strength. SFK was a superhero version of myself that made me feel powerful. She was extra, larger than life, and was unapologetically herself. She helped me project an image of confidence out into the world and strangely enough, it started working. (After all, Lady Gaga was Stefani Germanotta’s superhero. If it worked for her, I determined it would work for me.)
"SFK was a superhero version of myself that made me feel powerful. She was extra, larger than life, and was unapologetically herself."
Later that year, I went on CollegiateACB, a gossip site for people to anonymously talk about frats, sororities, and other stuff around college. I typed my name into the search engine with the honest expectation that there’d be no results. I was wrong. There on the screen I saw my name bolded – my full name was literally the title of the post. It read, “She’s super fat. Someone should tell her to lose a few – or more like 50.” I recently found an old diary entry where I had written my thoughts about the experience: “What surprised me about this moment was how little it fazed me. I didn’t feel a prick of insecurity or self-hatred as I read the words “super fat.” I realized that I had reached a point in my life where I had “thick enough skin” (pun intended) to let the comments roll off my back. Our looks do not dictate who we are. Who we are dictates our looks.”
When I was in my SFK persona, I started to slowly observe Serena from this secure place. And suddenly, I started to like Serena. I realized that SFK and Serena weren’t that different anymore. That this impersonation, which looked strange from the outside, allowed the real Serena to become strong and confident. Soon, I didn’t need to “hide” behind SFK anymore. SFK became a tool; a path into my inner strength. Eventually, I started introducing myself as just Serena and that was enough.
SFK has developed into a brand that represents body positivity, sexual freedom, and being unapologetically in love with yourself. Seven years after my freshman year of college, I was finally confident. And now that I felt empowered, it was time to empower others. I started to use the Q&A feature on Instagram to encourage my followers to ask me questions about dating, fitness, and hangovers. It was around that time that I went through one final transformation: the mostly self-centered SFK became the Queen of Confidence.
As my platform grew and I began seeing how my words empowered others, I started looking for ways to extend my impact. I landed on the concept for a Youtube series where I could meet the women asking me questions and really help them become more confident. From there, Ask Serena was born. My goal with this project is to help women like me realize that they’re in control of their narrative and the way they perceive themselves. All I want is for them to know that they have the ability to do whatever they want in life, and all it takes is a little “fucking” confidence. Watch the first episode below!
If you or someone you know is in need of a confidence boost, submit to the casting call here: https://refinery29.formstack.com/forms/youtube_casting.