“You’re a beautiful girl.” – I used to think that this was some underhanded, secret way of someone calling me ugly. It was so basic and it lacked definition, in my undeveloped opinion. And it would always come from adults, not from peers. That messed me up. Before you laugh, hear me out.
In my youthful ignorance, I used to cringe when people would make such a strong connection between how they perceived my beauty and my smile. In my mind, I thought people were saying that my smile was the sealing factor of any beauty that I possessed, limiting me to something that I may or may not be doing at any given time. How do you manage to take “you’re beautiful” as some sort of lower echelon compliment? This is how a girl with low self-esteem had put things together in her head.
It was rough handling how I perceived that people looked at me and how they “accepted” my brand of beauty. I learned at an early age to have disdain for my darker skin, my thicker hair, my fuller figure, my naturally darker knuckles and joints. It was less because someone told me to hate these things about myself and more about what I saw that was adored by others (my peers). When you’re younger and you don’t know what to think, you go off what you see. In my case, people would tell me to embrace my “beauty” but my “beauty” managed to be something that few wanted – or at least openly wanted. It was also hard for me to embrace my beauty when some of the same people would compliment certain features and then turn around ask crazy questions about other features (imagine what being asked “do you box?” does to an 11 year old’s head, not because of my strength but because my knuckles are naturally darker than the rest of my hand).
Over time this created several complexes, which I had no clue would be so far reaching and long lasting. So I decided that I would go on a mission to be gorgeous, to be “fahn”, to be worthy of being even considered to be a model. The only thing is that I tired quickly of all the things i thought I needed to do in order to be “gorgeous”. Tried wearing make up every day; that drove me crazy and my sensitive skin shot back a big fat “no ma’am”. Tried my hair different ways; I couldn’t find what I liked and became so indecisive (relaxed/natural/long/short = exhausted). Tried dressing a certain way but between hearing my Mom in the back of mind in dressing rooms and simply being uncomfortable in many of the things my peers were comfortable in, that fell flat too. It took me a long time to recognize that anything I tried to change about myself with the wrong motivation would eventually fail.
And then there were the few guys I’ve dated. Dealing with how I felt about myself always had me second guessing how they felt about me or why they even felt strongly enough to date me. I know that I am a good, solid woman; I didn’t wonder about that. I wondered largely about how they viewed my “beauty” and if they really were attracted to me or just attracted to the good person I am (Y’all do know personalities make people attractive, right? I’m thankful for a pretty good personality but I’m not going to lie and say that I’m OK with a guy wanting me just for my personality and intelligence). None of them made me feel like a freak of nature; in fact, they all seemed to enjoy my beauty, especially during the respective relationships. But I always wondered. And then there was the fact that I tended to be the polar opposite of either what they “usually go for” and after me, their choices in the next woman reflected a beauty that was different from mine (read: more in line with what they “usually go for”). Of course there’s nothing wrong with that but it’s just a part of my story.
As I’ve said in so many of my blogs before, this past year has produced so much within me. I had to do better and be better, while recognizing what I already have. I had to finally acknowledge that I put way too much stock in having others love me or feel things about me that I should be feeling about myself. For so many years of my life, the highs and lows of my self-esteem were predicated on what I was hearing from others about myself. That simply could not be the case anymore.
How do you reverse years of self-loathing? How do you learn to truly love skin that you’ve conditioned yourself to dislike for so long? How do you fall in love with your own smile and fall in love with putting it on your own face?
Well…I’m not finished the process and I have not perfected it. I’ve learned that you do it one day at a time, breaking down one hurtful thought at a time. I had not recognized how many negative thoughts about how I looked zoomed through my head in one 24 hour span until I made the conscious effort to stop the thoughts. I started with reclaiming beautiful, people’s “go to” word for me. I had to reprogram my mind to believe that if someone said I was beautiful, 1) they mean it and 2) it was not some underhanded code word for “you’ve got a nice personality”.
Then I had to learn how to control my smile. I’ve let so much of what happens in my life control whether I smile and how long I smile. It seems that the brighter smiles came and stayed longer when I learned to put them on my own face. I have learned to ask myself what really makes me happy, what makes me unique, what makes me shine, what makes me smile bright and i have decided to be in pursuit of those things. One of my funnier observations as of late is that when I am having a day when I’m feeling good about myself, it does not matter what I have on, what my hair looks like, or if I have a morsel of makeup on my face – people recognize and compliment my beauty. It’s been a crazy thing to see I guess because now my eyes are open to it.
Whatever I have done with my style, my hair, my personal choices – I’ve learned to do them for me. People don’t stay because you change for them; I’m a living witness. Moreover, I’ve learned to wake up everyday determined to love me. I don’t love me just for my smile or just for my intelligence and my accomplishments as I’ve done in the past. I’m learning to love all of me, curves and edges and my curbs and hedges. Every thick strand of hair that coils tightly at the root in the heat, every extra ounce to love, every dark knuckle, every blemish, every ounce of chocolate skin – I’m learning to look in the mirror and like what I see and this outlook change suits me just fine.
“We have to confront ourselves. Do we like what we see in the mirror? And, according to our light, according to our understanding, according to our courage, we will have to say yea or nay — and rise!” – Dr. Maya Angelou (1928-2014). Rest well, dear.