find the love & anchor in it // Truth Tribe interview: Kyeli Smith

Have you ever glanced in the mirror and despised your reflection?

Have you ever felt not good enough? Unworthy? Unloved?

Have your ever wondered how to go on living?

Kyeli Smith has.

She has fought (and loved) her way back from the depths of darkness and depression. She is part "feisty mystic mermaid," after all. She's a "deep-sea diver of the soul."

I've long been a follower of Kyeli and her wife Pace on Instagram. Kyeli's body-love and self-love advocacy resonate deeply for me, as I've faced my own questions of enoughness. Kyeli's fearless (or fearing-but-brave-anyway) selfies ring with truth and power.

When I was planning our Beloved issue of The Phoenix Soul magazine, I immediately thought of Kyeli. She embodies both the struggle and the triumph in truly claiming ourselves as beloved . . . just as we are.

I'm honored to welcome Kyeli to our Truth Tribe. Her interview in Beloved is achingly beautiful, never shying away from pain but also quick to embrace joy.

Kyeli and I talked in depth about her selfie practice, something she's been developing since 2011.

In part, I said, "Many of your posts deal with body acceptance and fostering a healthy sense of self-worth. How has your selfie practice helped you love yourself more fiercely?"

My selfie practice came to me after I glanced in the mirror one morning and realized that I hadn’t even looked at myself in months. Not just a cursory glance, though I’d been avoiding those too, but an actual look, like, at my face or my body or even my eyes. Months. It had been months.

I hated myself, hated my body, my face, my hair . . . and something inside me snapped. It just stopped being okay to hate myself, and it was time to do
something about it. Never being one for small measures, I made a promise to myself to not just take the selfie, but share it on Instagram, every
day for a month. So I kept with it, and I kept taking selfies and looking at them, editing, processing, filtering . . . all of which involves a helluva lot of looking at oneself . . . and after a while, I realized that all of that looking had transformed my self-hate and dysphoria into something gentler. Something more like . . . love.
— Kyeli Smith, Truth Tribe interview, TPS: Beloved
  image by Kyeli Smith

image by Kyeli Smith

Kyeli's selfie practice has allowed her to view herself through a lens of love. This is especially vital in a world that often attempts to silence voices like Kyeli's.

. . . I’m fat and I’m gay, I’m sensitive and I’m openhearted and I’m very strange, and mainstream society has a habit of drowning people like me, and I was drowning. I started posting selfies to save my own life, to say “I’m here and I’m alive,” but more than that, to help myself feel like I deserve to be here and be alive in a world that constantly tells me I’m not worth the effort.
— Kyeli Smith, Truth Tribe interview, TPS: Beloved
  image by Kyeli Smith

image by Kyeli Smith

In 2014, Kyeli was struck by a car in a crosswalk. In addition to adapting to life with a cane and wheelchair, Kyeli has dealt with severe depression. Her photography has become a tremendous tool for healing. 

My selfie practice became a shining beacon of hope for me during this process. Learning to see myself with love all over again, after falling into deep depression and not wanting to look at myself in the chair or with the cane, took a lot of work and a lot of outtakes that never made it to Instagram–and a lot of photos that did.
— Kyeli Smith, Truth Tribe interview, TPS: Beloved
  image by Kyeli Smith

image by Kyeli Smith

I asked Kyeli what encouragement she'd offer TPS readers who feel stuck in their heart and/or body ache. Here's what she had to say:

Oh, my darling love. I hear you, I see you. I’ve been there–stuck in the pain, lost in the ache, feeling like nothing will ever change or get better. It’s bloody awful, it is!

And I won’t tell you that it will get better, because maybe it won’t. I don’t know what’s true for you. But I will tell you this: there is love here for you, even in the ache. Even in the pain. Even in the darkness, there is light. Maybe you won’t get better, maybe you won’t get unstuck, and maybe that can be okay too. Find the love and anchor yourself in it.
— Kyeli Smith, Truth Tribe interview, TPS: Beloved

Phoenix, I don't know what burdens weigh heavy on your shoulders today. I don't know if you are able to find light in your darkness, or see yourself with eyes of love yet.

I do know this: love is always, always the way through and out. Love is the key to transformation. And especially? Loving yourself--and letting yourself be loved--exactly as you are, here and now . . . in all your mess.

Don't wait.

Love now.
Let yourself be loved now.
Let love meet you right where you are.

Please. Do whatever it takes to begin to see yourself through eyes of love. Start small. Start now.

You aren't alone. We've got you.

with so much respect & awe,