“If you haven’t heard my story, my mom is full Korean and my dad is Caucasian,” she told Darling magazine. “Kids in Kindergarten would make fun of me for being Asian and when you’re that age, you don’t know really how to process that. The way you take that is, ‘Who I am isn’t good enough.'”
Joanna, 39, then moved to a much larger school in Texas, where her discomfort was at its worst. “In the lunchroom, everyone was a blur and I was thinking, ‘How do people do this? How do you find that one person to sit with?'” she said. “So I literally walked into the lunchroom and walked out and went into the bathroom. My fear and my insecurities just took over and I felt like I’d way rather sit in the stall than get rejected.”
When Joanna was in college, she spent her last semester in New York City, and she was reminded of those dark times as a kid. “I was by myself again where it was just me in a big city, and I remember that came back up again — just the thought of, ‘Am I good enough?'” she recalled. “For six months, I wrestled with my identity and the themes of, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What’s my purpose?’… and I kept remembering that time in the bathroom.”
These situations Joanna experienced caused her to see herself in a different light. “I don’t think confidence has ever really been one of those things that came naturally for me,” the HGTV personality, who is pregnant with baby No. 5, shared. “If people thought I was confident, it was really just the way I masked my insecurity because I didn’t want people to really get to know the real me.”
Today, she’s making sure she teaches her four kids about anti-bullying and helping others who are going through the same thing she once did. “I always tell my kids to look for that kid on the playground who’s not playing with anybody, to go reach out, ask them their name, to look for the kid in the lunchroom who isn’t sitting by anybody, be their friend,” Joanna shared. “That experience grounded me in that I want to look for the lonely, the sad, the people who aren’t confident, because that’s not where they’re supposed to stay.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Closer Weekly.