FASHIONReturning to Power

Manulani shot by Paul Lowe in Brooklyn, NY

Blinded by an addiction to rising out from the ashes of self-destruction, I didn’t see myself as a victim. 

A victim wallows in their pain, I thought. 

But not, I. 

I am a warrior. I am a relentless and determined motherfucker, who will never allow someone to keep me down—no matter how swiftly they come in to break me. 

This was my way of the world, my mantra: I shall overcome. 

And in feeling this, I would blog. I would write about the misadventures of a supremely lonely person who “just wants to be the best” yet stumbles upon romantic hardship, unrequited love and heavy delusion. The story arc painted itself perfectly, set against the backdrop of Small Town, USA, reaching the mid-season finale with a move to New York City and continuing production of a fantasy world made for must-see television. With every lament of feeling unworthy, of feeling like nobody loved me, of feeling like every man I fell for ultimately was meant to break me—it all became this narrative, which ultimately became my very being. Without this cyclical story, perhaps I wouldn’t know who I was. 

It only took me until round three, person three to help me see that this wasn’t working. My own toxic patterns were no longer fool-proof, I was being found out by the much smarter people around me. My heart was pure with good intentions, but the story I was telling myself no longer served me. 

The truth is, no one was coming to swiftly break me. If I were to replay the tapes it would be a lot of me speaking with a ghost that didn’t show up on camera, then followed by me screaming and running away from the invisible orb. But getting there wasn't easy—I had to go back to the beginning and unlearn all I had picked up along the way in my 25 years of life. 

It was in the past where I discovered the roots of my triggers, the experiences that lit my longing to be loved by other people, and to feel validated by the gazes from strangers. I placed the pain and trauma of my earlier years onto the people I’d attach myself to. If they didn’t make me feel special enough, wanted enough, pretty enough, I’d blame them and expect them to keep trying. 

“You don’t really care about me, you never did," was a frequent line of mine. 

But nothing they did had anything to do with me. I already came pre-wired with the assumption that I will never be good enough, no matter how much someone tried to show me I mattered to them. It was all about my perception. 

I needed to know where this was coming from.  

So I thought back to my childhood. What did little-me like doing? What were their dreams? When did they feel the most happy? 

I kept going back to that child, and seeing the joy in their eyes when they’d choreograph a dance, write wild stories in their notebook, sing loudly to Brandy and perform songs for the family. I remembered wanting to be an actor at the age of six and hosting the sixth grade talent show. 

And then, I remembered a dream I had when I was seven. In the dream, I walked up to the mirror placed in our family dining room and looking at myself, seeing I had long dark beautiful hair and wearing ruby earrings. I looked at myself in the mirror happily, full of love for myself at that moment. But it was a dream, a dream I was later shamed for after sharing it. 

The older that child got, the quicker they lost who they were. That child suppressed themselves and that child tried to tell the truth of their pain by becoming smaller, by making safer career choices, by falling for guys who didn't want them, by not asking for what they deserved, by not speaking up. I would tell my truth by using certain people as punching bags, running away from them, blocking them and then returning back again. I would tell my truth in saying I was ugly, in saying I wasn't good enough to be here. I would tell my truth in saying I wanted to kill myself.

I had to deal with the pain of the past to get to the real truth. In going back and remembering the child-me, I knew I had to honor them. I started writing songs again, bought a wig to wear out, found comfort in the stitching of a cute skirt and the beauty of dancing freely in my room. I would allow the negative thoughts of old narratives to pass by, I'd give them a head nod and let them scamper out on their dreary way.

The more I honored that kid in me, the less my version of reality made sense. It became easier to reject negative thinking and victim-like behavior. The blog no longer felt right to me. The crazy idea that people were out to get me sounded ridiculous. 

I stopped desiring who I couldn’t have and began envisioning what I truly want in a partner. 

I quit smoking cigarettes, I ended my blog, I started my own business, I made new amazing friends, I started flirting, I did yoga, I learned how to meditate, I cleared my room of junk, I took a much needed social media sabbatical. 

Beyond all that, I now take up space without feeling unworthy of doing so. I find myself living in the present moment, releasing unnecessary fears of the future. I surrendered to what I now know is my purpose, the purpose bestowed upon me as a child—the one I forgot and tried to ignore. Life is unfolding in a way I have never experienced. It’s not about being “happy,” it’s about loving yourself—so then you can fully embrace happiness, and fully embrace sadness, and know that no matter what, you trust yourself and a plan bigger than you. 

This is what I’ve learned in the past few months: 

Every relationship is an assignment, and you will keep getting re-assigned until you understand the lesson. 

Holding on to a false narrative is holding on to pain of the past, which holds you back from embracing beautiful moments in the present—and allowing a beautiful future. 

Your patterns began somewhere. Your perspective was shaped somewhere. Our job is to go back and remember. And once we remember the root of our triggers, we must acknowledge them, heal them and set them free. We must do this on our own. We must forgive those who brought us pain because it only keeps the pain closer to our hearts and minds. It only repeats the cycle. 

These photos are an ode to my child-self, who I am in this present moment and who I am becoming. It's being the person that little Manulani would look up to. It’s knowing who I really am. It’s embracing my beauty so I can experience more of the beauty around me. It’s joy. It is freedom. 

It is power. 

xx Manulani