Three days ago, my friend asked a group of us on Facebook how often do we look into the mirror and actually like what we see. Ironically, I was talking about this particular topic with one of my best friends before seeing this post.
Mirrors. Selfies. Reflections. They tend to tell me something different every time I stare into them. Before running added a boost of confidence to my self esteem, I remember going through layers of insecurities throughout my youth. Small framed, big bobble head and so many people reminded me of my slim yet awkward shape. I'm not sure of your racial background nor does it really matter but one of the many stereotypes that resonated in the African American community during the 1990s to early 2000s was set into various categories:
In my mind, I didn't meet those qualifications and I couldn't help but wonder if God was real. If he or she is real, why didn't they give me a decent rack? Double A nuggets for breast meat didn't make me happy and my booty surely wasn't a J-Lo sized ass but you get the point. Nevertheless, I had good days of looking at my reflection and I could stare at it with some sort of comfort for a few minutes without it feeling strange.
Post-Partum Depression & Self Image
After leaving high school, I was happy that I started gaining weight. In my mind, it was wonderful. From a vain point of view, I wanted to look like everyone else despite my husband who was happy with my then, petite frame. Unfortunately, I miscarried around 5 years into our relationship. A huge part of me felt lost. It's hard to describe that level of broken. Within that year, I miscarried twice and was convinced that we would never have children.
My mirror didn't make me feel happy during those moments. This body and reflection failed me; it wouldn't allow me to bare children. In a sense, I felt myself pulling back from group photos or looking into the mirror for anything other than the essentials.
Fast forward to 2007, I was blessed with a son and during my very hard pregnancy, I loved every aspect of being pregnant, even the times that I was so gassy that I could easily clear out an entire room with one silent killer from my ass. When postpartum depression kicked in, I was in such an insane state of denial and fear. My reflection took me into a bad place. I remember a Saturday morning looking at a full length mirror in disgust and crying for what felt like 30 minutes. It was actually 2 hours. I would lose hours of my time for weeks staring at a reflection that failed me. How did I allow this body to change so drastically? At this point, I saw the artificial aspects of society where people would be back in shape after a few months of having a child. This certainly wasn't my case. After being treated for postpartum depression, I didn't look at mirrors in my home for no more than a half minute when possible. I thought it was the remedy.
I'm Fat (and I Think That's Okay)
Years passed and I finally made it into culinary school thanks to a good amount of folks who believed in me. Around this time, I was getting my feet wet with learning how to be a photographer's assistant to my husband's freelance business, E. Snell Design. I couldn't help but notice the women that he would bring on set. To me, they are beautiful and I adored watching them getting groomed for the camera and some going into a good headspace before walking onto set. In my mind, it's poetry in motion. With my tomboyish ways, I never desired to be the pretty girl on camera but their bodies was something to desire. Until this point, they were flawless until my husband would place the images on the desktop. My untrained eye couldn't see even a quarter of what he saw and the emails/personal requests from his female clients who would request for him to "fix" a blemish or butt wrinkle. The things that he would have to "correct" was exorbitant. Personally, I didn't get it. Why do you need these things Photoshopped? In my mind, she was already perfect but I quickly learned about the demands of this business. Depending on who is your client, you either selling confidence with a coat of concealer and contouring or the ideals of perfection.
Please don't take this the wrong way but I think that our clients helped me find my happy. I started interacting with a majority of them on set after I started getting comfortable with light setups, arrangements and eventually, taking on clients of my own. I absolutely love being behind the camera but the curious nature in me was intrigued by back stories. Most of my closest friends and loved ones know that I'm a sucker for a good documentary, memoir and almost all things historical and non-fiction. Listening to some of clients helped me learn about myself more. Seldom times, I would have a client who would say something that would haunt me for a few weeks. Most times, it was inspiring and I would implement their strategies to display confidence on camera. Other times, I couldn't believe that some people were as insecure, if not more, than me. As I questioned why did they see certain parts of their bodies as a flaw, I couldn't help but question myself and in turn, at 265+ pounds, I asked my husband to take photos of me but not just any ole photos: Implied Nudes.
There was something liberating to take these photos and embrace the fat rolls that I lugged around everyday. I tortured myself for years, masking areas of my body that might be "offensive" to the wrong audience. His photos gave me permission to say fuck it. I felt so liberated that I decided to share these photos on Facebook and Instagram. Oh, the comments. An astronomical amount of comments for big girl me. A great portion of responses were very supportive, a trickle of inappropriate inboxes came my direction and in which, I sent them to the door and then it happened: Negative feedback. Most people weren't bold enough to say it on my picture but the private conversations hurt my core. I received everything from "...you have a child" to straight, no chasers like "...you're too big to have your gut and legs exposed like that. It's not flattering and I'm very disappointed." Backhanded compliments really tickled my gastrointestinal tract: "You're so much braver than me because nobody would be seeing my goods at that size. Good for you though!" Sure, why thank you. I love compliments that tell me that I'm the sexiest, bravest whale that they ever saw.
From this point, every time I saw my reflection, I saw other people's faces of disappointment. Everyone saw the pink elephant in the room and this time, they didn't ignore it; they just shamed her every chance that they could. It would have been better if I didn't know these people but most comments came from "friends" and family and I couldn't help but question why people were bothered by my fat more than me. I pride myself on being head strong and stubborn (and depending on the person reading this, stubborn is typically not a good quality) but I'm human. It was as if folks thought that since I am so abrasive that it gave them permission to poke fun at me because it seems as if I could take it. Sure, I'm as direct as they come. I had to learn how to soften the blows a bit over the years. I think they call this word "tact," as I used to look at it as sugar coating. But, there's a thin line between being direct and being an asshole. Many didn't know this technique when it came to talking to me. I didn't want to be placed into the category of the angry fat black woman so naturally, I smiled a lot. I made jokes before people ever had the chance because nobody could hurt me if I already put it out there. The lies that we tell ourselves to get sleep can be the worst recipe to burnt crow. There were moments where I felt like it was too much and would request that people would stop talking about me as if I was dead or not in the room. Most times, it would die down until the next episode of Dragon Ball Z but other times, I would have an overly preachy friend claiming that my confidence was endangering my health. Alas, these same friends wouldn't come with me to a doctor's appointment, let alone hold my hand on days when I was coughing up blood from bronchitis infections.
If you are reading this and feel terrible for me, DON'T. I think there's a lot of fat people out there like me who will tell you that sometimes your sympathy isn't necessary. We're not dead. We don't need condolences. You can be concerned but TACT is key. Respecting our wishes is probably the best thing that you can do. If you drive an animal into a corner, either it will whimper for help, shield itself or fight back in such an aggressive manner that you would have wished you wasn't there at that moment. I am a fighter and with the wrong approach, not only will I shield myself, I will attack simply because self preservation told me so. If you really give a shit, say it when it is truly necessary and put your egos and personal agenda to the side. Don't give us "tough love;" just love us at every step of the journey. And if your advice gets rejected with a laundry list of reasons why it's not going to happen, remind us that you give a shit. Tell us that you'll actually be there to support us in some type of way. If we wake up and decide to actually change our lives, SHOW UP.
Learning How to Fall in Love With Myself
Sure, you've probably read this story from me so many times, especially with the media frenzy that I've been going through this year. Yes, I gained a shit load of weight, knocked on death's door and thankfully, he wasn't home to collect me. The weight loss was nothing short of incredible to me; gaining parts of it back was humbling and empowering. But hey, I must admit that yoga and running helped me love myself.
Yoga kicked in first thanks to my friend Latesha who was teaching at a yoga studio in Kew Gardens. The commute was atrocious, as it took me a hour and 30 minutes by public transportation. Once I learned how to ride a bike, it took me 45 minutes to commute 8 miles on a mountain bike. I question what forms of cocaine I might have sniffed to get me to ride such a heavy bike 3 times a week, 16 miles each day and die doing hot yoga for a hour. I poke fun at myself but I knew what I was doing for a hour of peace. There were times during meditation that I would set an intention to love myself and to test my limits. I feared success in such a terrible way. In this studio, mirrors was everywhere. There was no hiding in this course, as it's helpful to see your mistakes and progression. I realized that the issue wasn't in my image but in the messages that I took in from everyone else.
By the time I threw myself into running, thanks to a friend signing up for a half marathon, I learned to truly love this body. Perhaps it is not the most beautiful thing to man. I have these irritable fat rolls on my back that have performed 1960s style sit-ins and demanded to stay. You can always tell whether I was gaining or losing weight by looking at my jaw line. My stomach refused to go past a four pack because hell, it's probably the most introverted thing on me. My belly is a lone soldier. Six packs are obviously for beers. Despite my humor, running made me clean off the mirror and respect my physical, mental and emotional strength. Good God woman, you are a muthafucking bad ass.
I allowed others to define who I was for so long. When I was 98 lbs with the raisin tits, I gave permission to a bunch of spectators about my level of sex appeal. I allowed society to define my level of beauty, as if I didn't understand that this is all a trend. Hell, even the standard model size in comparison to the everyday person's clothing size changed drastically over the last six decades. As I started finding myself, I refused to acknowledge that sometimes people weren't talking badly about me but more about themselves. Although some people aren't intentionally trying to hurt you, they are mentally conditioned to believing certain ideals too. Living in New York City, I am surrounded by different cultures, religious perspectives and opinions. Why couldn't I listen to my own? I have no idea. Running. Yoga. Growth. LIFE...has shown me that I am one radiant human being.
Folks gave me shit for posting up selfies for years on my page. Bless your stupid, fragile heart. It's not that people's opinions don't matter; it doesn't matter as much anymore. I don't desire to wake up at 70 wondering why I didn't listen to myself or try something earlier on in life. Why not today? In turn, I forced myself to look into the mirror in 2013, told myself five great things every morning and watched for another minute and listened to all of the negative thoughts that followed. I learned how to actively listen to them and work on improving the situation. Once in a blue, I hear some really shitty dialogue in my head. I never said it's a remedy. I can surely say that the dialogue isn't so terrible anymore. Every ounce of my chub rub could give two bits of a damn about the negative feedback about my body image from outsiders.
So, how often do I look in the mirror? -Every damn day.
Do I actually like what I see? -Absolutely.
What do I see? - I see brilliance. I see strength. I see success. I see beauty. I see growth.
Fuck the naysayers. Look into the mirror and be great.