As told to THINK editor Meredith Bennett-Smith; edited for clarity.
As we grow as human beings, different versions of ourselves emerge every year — sometimes every quarter. It’s just a matter of learning the new version of you and accepting it. You can be 25, 26, 27 years old and still feel out of place. We don’t always love ourselves the way that we should; and I don’t want kids to feel that way.
Representation comes in many different forms. It isn’t always about finding somebody who looks just like you.
There are plenty of people who are rule breakers and ground breakers and who go against the grain, but it can be hard to find them in a homogenized place. That’s one of the reasons why I got involved with The Girl Collective powered by the Dove Self Esteem Project. People need encouragement; they need exposure to what’s possible.
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I find this message is especially important for young women and girls, in a way, because women are just more sensitive in general. We're sensing everybody's feelings all the time, so I think we're hyper-aware of ourselves. There’s so much going up on the internet every day, everyone scoping photos, everybody has something cool to say. I think right now with young kids, it’s just really, really difficult to grasp what it means to take your own time; to create a baseline for yourself.
But representation comes in many different forms. It isn’t always about finding somebody who looks just like you. Maybe it’s someone who speaks like you or who just lets you know that it’s okay to even those thoughts you may have been keeping to yourself — about your reality, about your future.
I never really felt like there was someone like that for me growing up, unfortunately. But for the next generation of girls, I just want them to focus on trying to live honestly. Even if you feel quote unquote, ugly, or unprepared. I feel like now more than anything our job is to be honest, and just to try.
Because at the end of the day, I think you should do whatever you want to do to make yourself your best self.
I think there is actually this whole other kind of pressure in telling people that they are not allowed to change themselves, for whatever reason. I think that is unrealistic and unfair. If I want to go to the gym, maybe to lose weight, maybe so I can sleep better, then I should do it. I wish somebody had just told me straight up, do what you need to do. And I appreciate people telling me that I look great or whatever the case may be. But by the same token, if I’m doing something unhealthy or start looking unhealthy, I want someone to feel comfortable telling me that too. Telling me: I want more for you.
It’s OK to want to be different or look different. I think the point is to give people freedom; options without any guilt or any attachments stuck to it.
And if we’re not happy with where we are or who we are, then we need to take the steps to change. The hard part is not psyching ourselves out before we take those steps.
It can take work to be true to ourselves, but we don’t always have to verbalize it. We just have to wake up and decide to be who we want to be that day, every day. We don’t have to pander to the room. And when we are able to do that, to stand up and not care what the people around us think, that helps the other people in the room stop being fake faster. That’s bravery. It’s not just about an aesthetic, it’s about a state of mind. Honesty is everything.
SZA is a Grammy-nominated R&B artist. Her most recent album is "Ctrl."