Tchesmeni Leonard, Stylist

Tchesmeni Leonard, Stylist

"I’m originally from New York — Brooklyn, born and raised. Growing up I was super skinny and scrawny and tall. When I got to middle school, all the boys wanted to date girls who had already gone through puberty and had size D breasts and big butts. I remember praying I’d get some kind of curve — I’d stuff my bra or wear double pants to make it look like I had something. By high school, I’d gone through puberty and was fine with how I looked. Over the summer, one of our close family friends was over at the house. And he said to me, ‘You know, I noticed you’ve been putting on weight. I just wanted to warn you to watch out, because if you put on weight when you’re older, you’re not going to like yourself.’ At the time I was taken aback, but mostly I was confused. As I got older, I realized that wasn’t okay. I saw him recently, maybe last summer or the year before, and I called him out. I said, ‘Do you remember when you said that to me as a kid?’ and he was like, ‘I was just looking out for you.’ I was with my brother. We just looked at each other and shook our heads. I said, ‘Do you realize how wrong you were for commenting on a young girl’s body size like that?’’ He was like, ‘I’m sorry if I hurt you.’ I’m happy I had the opportunity to say something to him. I was able to let it go after that.

BodyTalk Tchesmeni
Tchesmeni wears the Plunge in Blush

I grew up vegan, my parents are into a very holistic lifestyle. So I grew up thinking I was doing something right, and that gave me a little bit of confidence. Conversation about looks never really existed in our household. My parents were the kind of people who walked around naked in our house, they just didn’t care. That’s how I was raised. Around middle school is when I first started to experience feelings about my body, but I was too embarrassed to tell my parents about insecurities I had then. Because we never talked about it, I kind of felt alone. I’m sure my friends were going through it too, but they weren’t going to say anything.

BodyTalk Tchesmeni
Tchesmeni wears the Plunge in Blush.

I moved through my early twenties feeling fine. At that point my friends and I had open dialogues about body image, which helped. But when I started working in fashion, about six years ago, I began to have critical feelings and thoughts about my appearance again. I’m a stylist, and I would worry about how much I was eating on set. I’d feel self-conscious about wanting to go back for seconds, but not wanting to be the only person who did. I still deal with that occasionally. Some days I wake up feeling like the most beautiful girl in the world. And other days I don’t want to get out of bed. I’ve learned those are fleeting feelings and I don’t need to harbor those. But when I was with my ex-boyfriend, those feelings were really strong. I was hyper critical of myself and how I looked because he would make weird comments I wasn’t okay with. He would say things like, ‘fat people are the bane of the health system.’ In the back of my mind that definitely affected me. To me it felt like, if that is how you go through life viewing people, and those are your morals, then if I ever got to a certain weight or my body changed, what would you think of me? On top of that, he would follow all these Instagram models. That was toward the end of our relationship. It made me glad it was ending, because I would wonder — I don’t look like those girls, so what do you see when you look at me? I think it’s important to be with someone who doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself. That definitely made me self-conscious, so it’s good that it ended.

BodyTalk Tchesmeni
Tchesmeni wears the Balconette in Black

I think [social media] has a big impact [on relationships]. I didn’t realize until it was happening. I just had to take a step back and think about what I deemed beautiful. What my standards of beauty were. I’d become such a big critic of myself, it started to affect me in other ways. I’d have major anxiety — not related to my image — but I’d have these panic attacks about general life because I was feeling kind of worthless overall. It really required some deep, deep inward reflection on all of that, doing meditation and some healing work. When you push your feelings to the side, they have a way of forcing you to eventually deal with them at some point. I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by amazing people, my friends and family who have the tools — and provided me with the tools to deal with my mental health. I’ve accepted the fact that feelings of insecurity will come up, but I don’t have to let them affect me every time. It’s a process, but it’s one that’s working.

I’m really inspired by my group of friends, the women in my life. I really felt alone when I was younger. In the last five years, I’m realizing everyone is going through similar things. I have routines now that help. Getting a juice in the morning, meditating, some form of exercise. Listening to music — I always love listening to something when I first wake up. Drinking tea. And then ending my day washing my face and taking a nice shower, and touching base with my friends and family. Those are the things I look forward to daily. It keeps me present, and when I’m present, I don’t experience anxiety.

BodyTalk Tchesmeni
Tchesmeni wears the Balconette in Black

I travel a lot for work, and I went to Cuba two years ago. I bought this cotton dress from a woman on the side of the road. This sheer, long white dress. And it’s not ‘sexy,’ but I feel so beautiful when I’m wearing it. I think there’s something very sexy about women who are comfortable being who they are — whether that’s sexy or sensual or not your stereotypical ‘sexy’ woman. Just being who you want to be. I love seeing a confident woman who’s not necessarily in a dress, or something fitted, or something girly — maybe she’s just in sweatpants being her confident amazing self. That’s been inspiring to me lately to be myself and to wear whatever. I don’t want to put on a full look everyday — I’m probably going to be in sneakers. Or sandals.

As I approach my thirties, I’ve been reflecting on the last ten years and how, in my twenties whenever I would go through experiences, I would feel like that was final. And I’ve come to realize now that nothing is final, everything is temporary. And everything will be alright. Things change and things shift and that’s good. Now I feel more confident in my decisions, confident in the power of saying no — or yes. But doing what I want. I spent a lot of my twenties trying to please other people. Now that I’m approaching my thirties I feel happy with the decisions I make. I put myself first.

BodyTalk Tchesmeni
Tchesmeni wears the Balconette in Black

I’d love to get more involved in community work in my thirties. I’m a girl scout troop leader for Troop 6000, which is part of the Girl Scouts, but is provided for young girls who live in the New York City shelter system. There are multiple locations throughout NYC, and mine is in Brownsville, BK. I go over there every Saturday and we have a lot of fun together. The girls range in age from six to eighteen and It’s been really amazing working with them. They’ve all been through a lot, so the hour or two we spend together is really impactful. They really look forward to it. I try to do things that they’re interested in, and really listen to them, and make sure they’re in an environment they feel comfortable in. A lot of them are not heard by anyone at home, so I think it’s big for them to feel heard and feel like they’re cared for. Or that their opinions are valued. It’s really helped me be grateful for what I have in my life. As cliché as it sounds, working with them has shifted my perception of what I value and what’s important."

Photographed in CUUP by Stephanie Lavaggi. Interview by Anna Jube.

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