“With a Change in Wardrobe Came a Change In How I Felt”

By Aqeela Starks

Starks in pink, left, with her older sister. Photo courtesy of Aqeela Starks

Growing up, my mother’s focus was on keeping her little girls presentable and on the right track. She really liked to dress me and my two sisters nicely, with our hair combed, clothes pressed and socks folded.

Starks with her grandmother. Photo courtesy of Aqeela Starks

But as much as I appreciated my mother’s hard work, I often found myself feeling really uncomfortable when she would make me wear bright pink, tutu skirts and girly print dresses. I enjoyed being able to have fun without having to worry about my clothes.

This made me realize at a very young age that I was different from those in my household and as time went on, we would only grow to be more different.

Starks, left, with her older sister. Photo courtesy of Aqeela Starks

When I was 11, three new additions to the family came along, making a total of four girls, two boys and a new stepfather. Together, we moved southeast of Los Angeles to Menifee Valley, California because it was easier for my stepfather to find work.

I often spent my days alone and away from most people. I needed to take advantage of the free time that I had away from my family and the rest of the world to find out who I was.

I looked back at my previous life in Fresno, what was influencing me and what was naturally accruing in my life. This is when things began to change.

One of the biggest changes was my wardrobe. I went from bright florescent colored outfits to a much more tomboy feel, with more pants and tights. The type of shoes I chose to wear also changed from flats and Sketchers to a more durable shoe, like Timberlands and Nikes.

Starks feels more comfortable and like herself in these boots. Photo by Charlie Kaijo.

My mother was confused with the changes I decided to make, but she understood that I wasn’t going to stay young forever. My older sister on the other hand gave me a really hard time and often started rumors to my cousins in Fresno that I was gay or wanted to be a boy.

With a change in wardrobe came a change in how I felt and how society perceived me. Before, I was quiet and bullied. After I turned 13, I was bold and demanded respect from others. I was more confident, almost cocky. I didn’t let people push me around anymore or pick on me. My comeback game was strong.

I really found myself in Menifee, and as a result my overall perspective on what it means to “be yourself” changed. I decided that I wasn’t going to let my older sister or the bullies at school affect my happiness or diminish the person I wanted to be.

I would venture off onto my own path and become my own person, and this started with choosing how I wanted to dress.

Starks today in a t-shirt, jeans and a beanie. Photo by Charlie Kaijo.

I also started exploring other interests. I started playing softball and basketball, and took up wrestling. I discovered that I have a passion for things like animals, plants and writing short stories. I was able to express my passion for art of all types.

After a year in Menifee, my mother and stepfather decided to split. So my sisters, brother and I packed our things and headed back to Fresno for good. Having reinvented myself in Menifee, I was more than ready to start fresh in a known environment.

When I was 15 we were once again settling in, with a new stepdad. All was looking up at this point. I began letting people in my life and I didn’t have to act or dress a certain way to fit in. I was simply being myself and I noticed people enjoyed my company just as much as I loved being comfortable in my own skin.

Throughout my journey to becoming me I learned that it’s best to embrace all that you are instead of hiding from the truth, because when you’re comfortable and true to yourself you will truly shine and everyone will notice.