There’s a quote I come across often from Plutarch that reads:
“What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”
My favorite picture of myself this year was a selfie I took for my 28th birthday. It was simply a close-up of me and my sons, laughing at something silly one of us had said or maybe a standout line we heard from the TV that got us to laugh simultaneously before the flash went off. My hair wasn’t done and from the back, I had patches of my tresses falling out. My eyebrows looked a mess. I was bold enough to take a photo inches away to expose the chipping in my nails that a filter couldn’t hide. I didn’t realize I had captured one of my best candids on my worst side until after the fact.
But I decided to ditch the photos of my face adorned in MAC products and my hair pressed well enough to pass for a perm, for the picture of my self-love shining through. This was me at my happiness. This was me at home, in my comfortable zone where I am no one spectacular and yet everything to myself. I am not an award-winning blogger here. I am not the writer. There are no mentions of social media recognitions and followers. In this space, I am just Erica; just Mommy. I wanted the photo for my new year of life to represent me in free form.
Because for years, I kept myself caged in the confines of people’s thoughts and opinions of me. The boys I called men dictated what was beautiful and picked apart the very flaws I’ve grown to accept or love like scabs. I let them play with my hair and their suggestions of what would be better for me, what was more fitting to bring out my features, what was best for my crown, was determined by someone who treated me far from royalty. I let them touch me in places I dared not touch myself. Other people knew my body better, and the fingers that traced my curves left an outline I did not draw for myself. I was accustomed to letting other people determine my worth.
My mother made me feel uncomfortable about my hips and my breasts, leaving me in an affair of confusion when I saw young women my age embrace who they were and what they had. I couldn’t wear clothing that would accentuate my figure, and drowning my body in fabric that didn’t fit followed me well into my adulthood. My partner questioned if I was ashamed of what I had. After years of being touched by other people, we experienced years of my skin wanting to be both left alone and held. I still had not learned to make contact with myself and fought with falling into the recurring pattern of letting other people do for me what I should do on my own.
So when I watched other women come into themselves, it was a lot of “who am I?” and “how dare they?”
How dare a woman define herself? The audacity of a woman to love who she is wholly. What kind of courage did it take for a woman to stand firm in her identity and exude confidence on her own, even with a man by her side? I wanted that.
I dressed in ways the women I envisioned as beautiful would dress and I found a stranger in every glance in the mirror. I read self-help books, chicken soup for the soul-style, until I regurgitated what I was feeding myself because it didn’t taste right. I needed something with more substance. I needed to talk to myself, drop the beauty standards of society, axe away the people who had the power to stamp a label on me, and figure out myself in order to find my worth.
I cut my hair to start over. I didn’t want the residue of someone’s fingers in the past to come with me on this journey. I threw out the same clothes that hide who I was. In the morning, I had conversations with myself in the mirror and told the woman I saw it was going to be okay. The beginning was the hardest. A girl was still holding on and she didn’t believe things would get better; didn’t think she could move on on her own. But the more the words seeped into her spirit, the more she looked at her reflection and saw a light.
Something a man couldn’t create. Something her mother couldn’t deter. Something magazines couldn’t teach. Something makeup couldn’t enhance. Something that was buried underneath the expectations and the rules of society, but was always there.
Someone asked me when did I fall in love, and in a cycle of putting myself in the forefront for the first time in life, I asked them in return, “with myself?” It wasn’t until recently and I’m not ashamed of that. It took my sons looking at me and telling me I was beautiful when I was dolled up or dressed down. It came after my partner rubbed his fingers through thick, Black girl hair and gently buried his face in it–a sign that I was okay as I was. It took other women of color finding their magic in their melanin and exuding a strength that can only come from rising above a state of oppression. It took me realizing that everything I had ever wanted–the best, love, happiness, security, comfort–already lied in God’s creation. Myself.
This post is part of The Layers of Beauty Tour created by GG Renee of All the Many Layers. Follow the tour through the blogs of 26 women exploring the complexities of womanhood and beauty from A to Z. Click here to keep up with each post and enter to win a giveaway package of goodies for your mind, body and soul. #LayersAtoZTour