Between working in retail for several years and being a freelance makeup artist, I’ve experienced first-hand the many ways in which we, as women, physically tear ourselves apart. I’m convinced that in the fine invisible print of each job description within the fashion and beauty industries, there is a duty that reads “Self-Image Therapist,” for this is a role that comes without question each day. “No ma’am, you’re not too fat for that dress.” “Of course those jeans don’t make your hips look too wide.” “No way—you don’t need implants. Your boobs look great in that top just as they are.” My makeup clients are no better with their evaluations of self: “I know it’s gonna take a lot to get this mug in order, Chels” or even “Give me the thickest concealer you’ve got, girl; these under eye circles are gonna need some work.” At times I’m tempted to grab perfect strangers by the shoulders, and shake some sense back into their poor, self-hating souls while screaming: YOU. ARE. BEAUTIFUL.
It wouldn’t work. And I’m not sure what more it would take, but after recently witnessing a woman break down into tears after looking at herself in a mirror, I knew there was something terribly wrong. Something deserving of further investigation.
I sat behind the counter at work that day, nearly in tears myself. A heart heavy knowing that no amount of positivity and bestowed compliments would change the fact that woman could barely stand the sight of her own reflection. I thought it over until my head hurt—why do we object ourselves to such scrutiny? And after going back and forth in my own mind, I faced a harsh reality: I’d been no better. Me. Chelsea. The same one who’d been the mascot for self-love, confidence, and appreciation of our physical being without question just a couple of hours prior. Nope, I’d been no better. Because as far back as I could remember, I, too, beat myself up internally and blamed the world for my seemingly misfortunate features.
I blamed my Mother, the picture of perfection she was during my younger years, for being everything I was not. Light. Short. A hair filled with curly long locks. I couldn’t understand how she, my grandmother, and most of my cousins and aunts had the look—light skin, long hair. And I just had to be different, the oddball. “Why me?” I’d wonder silently.
I blamed my Father, not only for being a pitiful individual, but for tainting my being with these awkward physical realities. Darker skin (avoided the sun like a plague). Coarser hair (relaxers from elementary school, on). The height of a damn basketball player! Ohhhhhh, that wicked height. My mom is 5′ 2″ you see, so only he could be blamed for my always being the tallest one in the class photo. 5’9″ by the time I reached 8th grade. Size 10 feet. I cursed his unspoken name when I had to go out of my way to find fashionable shoes for a teenage girl hard-pressed on following “the trends.” And when I had to pay more for my Jordan’s because I couldn’t fit the same cute kiddie sizes that my friends wore, please believe I gave him hell.
I blamed adolescence for acne and braces—at the same time. And I wasn’t quite sure who to blame for my needing glasses, but please believe they were deserving of my discontent, too.
I blamed my best friends for having video-vixen statures in middle school while I could barely fill out a bra. One was a D-cup even in sixth grade, and got all the guys’ attention. The other was a track superstar, and, thus, stacked like a stallion. The only girl in the whole school with a booty like J-Lo, or so it seemed back then. When she walked by, time would stop for just a few seconds. Oh, yes, the fellas loved her too! My flimsy frame couldn’t compare.
I blamed makeup for giving me a false sense of beauty and femininity throughout high school. No, I didn’t wear foundation. But eyeshadow, liner, blush, and lipgloss, all became addictions. Fun, playful, and harmless to the untamed eye. But there soon reached a point at which I couldn’t leave the house fresh-faced because I’d forgotten that I was pretty without all the extra fixings. Late to class, sitting in the car, applying that third coat of mascara. It was my “thing” and I couldn’t have a day off.
I blamed college for blessing me with ten extra pounds each year. Thirty to date. Something about being free to come and go and eat and hang out and stay up as you damn well please begets bad habits. And, yes, they became my own. But when I transferred schools and moved to Atlanta, I blamed Georgia for having me feel that I wasn’t thick enough. The figures of my modelesque friends back home couldn’t even begin to compare to the shapes of these southern gals. Nope, no amount of squats and lunges could give you the hips and backside of someone who’s been fed pork chops, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread since childhood. Or even someone who’s had a couple of shots (if you know what I mean) here and there; yes, those have nearly become the norm too.
I blame a whole bunch of people for a whole bunch of other things I have yet to come to terms with regarding my appearance, but more than anything – I blame myself. For I, like the woman who wept in front of the mirror, am to blame for how I have handled that over which I have no control. And even more at fault for measuring my own worth against someone else’s natural standard; I’d always be an imperfect version of them, but couldn’t see that I was a flawless version of myself. I was too young to understand that my complexion was the most gorgeous shade of brown that God had ever blended—because he created it just for me. And, even so, these days I love me a good summer tan—the browner, the better. I was too stubborn to know that my height was a blessing—something that made me stand out in a crowd—striking. Plus, it automatically eliminated all the short, good-for-nothing guys whose attention I thought I needed at the time. And I was too damn dumb to realize that I wore a size 10 so that I could always have access to the good shoes that all the 7.5-8s had to fight for at the department stores. Duh! How could it not be obvious? *Sighs*
I’ve learned from self-evaluation and retrospect that we will all face physical insecurities at one point or another. But you either love it, deal with it, fix it, or die inside from irrational feelings of inadequacy—take your pick. I choose to be proud of those subtleties that set me apart from the next woman, and I encourage you all to do the same. Love yourself as a work-in-progress, for you will only become more gorgeous from adopting a positive self-image. And let’s uplift one another, too. Instead of being mad because the next chick has a badder body than your own—complement her and ask what kind of workouts she does. Like someone’s hair? Tell her so, and just maybe she’ll slip you her stylist’s card. You never know, the very thing you commend her on may be the single thing making her feel not so up to par that day. Be a blessing to someone else . . .