“It took many years of vomiting up all the filth I’d been taught about myself, and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.”James Baldwin
I grew up in the 1990s when we were drilled to “Say No to Drugs” and music videos were all the rage. I made up dance steps with my sister and a best friend. We even played double-dutch and acted out daytime talk shows. It was an interesting time to be a young Black girl. While I had fun in my neighborhood, there was an element of the nineties that impacted me well into my thirties. The love for thin, lighter skinned, long hair Black women with European features was something else I experienced. It impacted me because I was only a young Black girl with none of those desired features. Since I couldn’t grow my own hair long, my mother made sure we achieved length with extensions. I couldn’t do anything about my wide nose, thick lips, or dark skin. There were bullies who challenged my confidence and called me ugly. I was constantly reminded of my big nose by others (it felt like people assumed I never looked in the mirror). This reminder came from adults and children. The adults should’ve been ashamed of themselves.
I was also overweight. I remember watching the movie, “Clueless” and wanting to dress like Cher and Dionne badly. I mean, they had the cutest style in my opinion. Plus the Jeep Wrangler! I wanted the whole package. There also came a time when that package came with not wanting to be Black. There were days I would wake up wishing I was adopted or wishing I was dreaming and would wake up a rich white girl. I hated my life. I hated my neighborhood. I hated my parents for having me. I hated my Black existence.
I knew nothing about taking up space or even loving myself. Those terms were foreign to me. I found it hard to even like myself. I cried to my parents for a nose job (which I almost pursued again a few years ago). I remember being in Detroit at a restaurant and asking my mother for a nose job. She said nothing. I was devastated.
Fast forward years later to my post high school years and a bit of weight loss. I gained some confidence. I felt cute, but not loved. Now we’re into the early 2000s. I was still trying to find where I fit in and what made me feel attractive. Everything was focused on my looks. There was no work done internally. I was just making it. Finally feeling good about the way I looked. I didn’t know anything about therapy or just being a confident woman. Then I started to lose my hair. Slowly, not anything extreme. I would have moments of growth and loss. Ultimately maintaining styles with extensions and wigs – not really feeling whole.
I prayed to God to at least let my nose shrink if my hair wouldn’t behave the way I wanted. Something had to give. I wanted to know why God would do both. Was I Job? I know I didn’t have the faith of Job. My prayer focused on my looks – always. I didn’t want to look ugly.
Yet, that didn’t stop my so-called dating life. I was still cute, but I wasn’t fulfilled. I didn’t date guys who actually cared about me as a person. Even when my intuition was telling me the guys were complete trash and wrong for me, I was flattered that I had attention and gave into their shallowness and selfishness. When they were done with me and I with them, I’d move on to the next person. I never dealt with any of the losses. The loss of myself, the loss of the connection, nothing.
I was in complete survival mode for most of my life. That was until I got tired of being angry and having a negative attitude. I felt like I was a good person, but my attitude could shift quickly. It took a long time to even learn that I didn’t love myself. I wasn’t taught, so it was a new and scary journey. I had always assumed my looks determined my worth. I was wrong.
The world still tries to remind me that I am not worthy of love. It took some time to learn that my looks have little to do with self love. The beauty in my heart and soul shows through it all. Trying to measure up to European standards of beauty is a myth and a trick to make folks feel less than. What’s different now is that I see myself as a role model for young people. I know the life that I lived as a lost young woman. I don’t want anyone else to walk that life. I see beauty through the heart and soul.
I started my journey about five years ago. I was starting to be more intentional about my health but there were days I was still depressed. I had an argument with my mother where I told her that she acted as if she didn’t like me. She told me I didn’t like myself. I blamed her because she raised me. I knew then I needed to change my environment and also start thinking about the love I gave myself. It took another year after that situation to understand why I felt the way I did about myself and to start loving myself beyond my looks. I started participating in online events to dig deeper, deal with my trauma, and to challenge my beliefs about beauty in the world and for Black women.
So what does self-love look like now?
Staring in the mirror and telling myself that I’m loved and I’m beautiful. I know it goes beyond my physical attributes. It can be hard some days to say those words when all I see are imperfections. I have to remind myself that those imperfections make me unique. Self-love also includes the words I say to myself and what I consume. It means advocating for my beliefs and my needs. And though self-love includes my own work, it wouldn’t be possible without an amazing support system. I’ve been blessed with new people in my life. Without their support and encouragement, my journey might have ended prematurely. It also wouldn’t be possible without God. I’m not sure what your faith is, but for me, prayer and faith have both gotten me to this place. I thank God for His blessings, love, grace, and forgiveness.
As the journey continues, I know there will be challenges. Life is not without them. Once my external beauty fades as I get older, my internal beauty will be what remains. I’m determined to practice self-love. I am blessed to exude self-love. I am love.