Alyssa Nissley: Discovering Identity

Filed under REAL Stories Your World on Mar 14 12 by

Alyssa NissleyMeet Alyssa Nissley, a college student attending Lebanon Valley College. This bubbly religion and sociology major (and thrift store shopper extraordinaire!) is truly beautiful, inside and out. But she didn’t always view herself that way. I had the opportunity to interview Alyssa as she shared the story of her struggle to understand her beauty and discover her identity. She spoke in an open and honest way, and I found her to be very relatable. Her story is unique, but perhaps you will find a bit of yourself in her!

Her Story

“My story is about a struggle for identity,” shares Alyssa. As a baby, she was adopted into a white family. Her parents were both Christians, and her dad is a pastor of a small Mennonite church. She automatically knew that there was something different about her, but her parents taught her that she was beautiful because God created her – it didn’t matter what color her skin was.

For elementary school and middle school, Alyssa attended a small Christian school with a class of 15. She was the only black girl in her class, and during this time her definition of beauty was defined by the popular, pretty girls in her school. “I would always try to become friends with the popular girl; I based my [sense of] beauty off of her, which didn’t work because I looked completely different than she did.” Alyssa had a growth spurt and became the tallest person in her class. This made her feel even more different, and she decided to compensate for this by acting like she was the authority. “I never actually ‘bullied’, but I let people know that I was the strongest, and no one would mess with me.” The bully thing didn’t work out, and Alyssa moved on to emotional eating and then to pornography to fill the void that she felt in her life. “I spent my elementary and middle school years trying to fit myself into a mold that I couldn’t fit into,” she shares. But these things didn’t fill her, or help her discover who she really was.

In high school, she was blessed with a group of accepting friends who told her that she was beautiful. Eventually, she began to believe them. But her struggle remained, especially as her friends began talking to boys. “All of my friends had boyfriends and attention from guys, and I felt that there was something lacking in me because I didn’t have [that].”

In college, Alyssa truly began to feel at ease with herself. “I went to college, and all of a sudden had a big group – there were probably 40 or 50 other ethnic kids at my college.” Being around a more diverse group of people helped Alyssa to understand that she was beautiful and that she wasn’t alone. “I’ve gotten rid of the [beauty] ideal in my mind that I didn’t even realize that I had.” After years of viewing her white friends as prettier than herself, she understood that this was not the only form of beauty. “For the first time in my life, I got attention from guys,” Alyssa says. Right after she shares this, she explains that this isn’t what fulfilled her, but it helped her to understand that she had something of value to offer. “[I thought], ‘Wow, there’s actually guys out there that think I am pretty. I need to own that!”

Alyssa believes that her adoptive father’s constant love and encouragement played a large part in her self-discovery. “One thing that helped me throughout my growing-up years is that my dad was a very encouraging person, and he always called me his little princess. [Because of this], I always thought of God as this big person that loves me and sees me as a princess. Another thing that I found comfort in is the Bible, particularly the verse in Song of Songs 4:7 which says, ‘How beautiful you are my darling, there is no flaw in you’. This is the way God felt about me, and I began to realize that I needed to start viewing myself in this light too.”

Meeting her birth mother also helped Alyssa to understand who she was. “Two summers ago, I saw my birth mother for the first time in twelve years. We were talking on the phone prior to our meeting…and we started skyping. That has been an incredible experience, talking to her and figuring out who I am. She is very much like me. Our personalities are [similar], and seeing where I get certain traits is amazing. We haven’t been in each other’s lives for long, and yet we can talk about anything. Being able to meet her has helped me discover more about my identity.”

More about Alyssa

Hobbies: Shopping, cooking (“I love coming home from college on break so I can cook.”), reading, arts and crafts
Fashion sense: “Unique, because I go thrift store shopping. I have a lot of pieces that no one else has!”
Favorite dish: “Potatoes are my favorite food. I enjoy making mashed potatoes in different ways.”
Favorite Word: Swell
Favorite color: “I like anything incredibly bright. Yellow is my favorite – it’s happy!”
Dream job: Motivational speaking or Christian theater (Alyssa is a theater minor!)

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Lauren D'Alessandro
As the founder of The You Are Project’s print magazine and blog, Lauren is passionate about developing publications that inspire creativity and action. Lauren is the Editor-in-Chief of You Are REAL and the creator and manager of our website. Her dream is to continue using writing and publications as tools for communicating God’s love to the world. Keep up with her latest endeavors at