Leah Vernon is an author, fashion blogger, and body-positive activist.
My mother was very … eclectic. We thought that was normal growing up. Whatever world she created for us, that's what we believed.
She home-schooled us, so afterward I’d ride my bike to the library and read for hours—C.S. Lewis, R.L. Stine, and J.K. Rowling. I pretended to be the characters. I had my own little world. Then, I’d go home and have to deal with whatever stuff my mother was going through.
My father wasn’t around much, but when he was, he was either making me feel bad about being Muslim, calling my mother crazy, or making me feel bad about my body. He would feed me a lot and then make fun of me afterward for being bigger than the other kids.
My parents shaped who I am now. It’s why I am a writer, because I can create with words these colorful images and stories. It’s why I like fiction more than nonfiction, you don't have to expose that you came from poverty or that you’re even African American. Writing was an escape. And it still is.
In my own little world, I was the protagonist who would save the day. I used to be into superheroes like Superman and Sailor Moon. During that time, there were little to no people of color in any of those roles. So, I imagined myself as a caucasian superhero or heroine. There is a split identity, or identity crisis that I went through as a young adult because I looked like this, but I thought I was that.
I try to make my stories multicultural because that’s what the world is really like.
Right now, I don't have a relationship with my mother, which hurts my feelings because I don't have a relationship with my father either. I don't have any parents, basically.
My mother had a lot of trauma growing up. She’s probably bipolar and has other issues from childhood that she never got mental help for.
Our relationship is—I don’t want to use the word toxic; it's just very broken.
I had a big mental break, ironically while working for the state of Michigan at a mental institution. Going to work, I would have freaks outs. I would come home from work and have freak outs. So, then I told myself, “I think it’s about time you get some help because you're going down the same path as these patients and your mom. It’s either that or self-destruct, even with a master's degree, being a blogger, or appearing normal.” So, I chose to get help. I didn't believe my therapist when she said it could get better. But I had five years of extensive therapy, which helped me tremendously with my anger and coping skills.
The people who were supposed to love and protect me, unfortunately, have not. I had to create my own support system—other artists who are very much like my family. Good love, genuine love is when you support somebody.
People put a lot of value on outer appearances. I tell them to center themselves. First, be confident from the inside-out.