“...I smile in the mirror
at my wide
I have no doubts
i am, i am a believer
in myself!”--from Peace
WHEN I wrote those words decades ago, I honestly believed them. In hindsight, which is always 20-20, I was engaged in inauthentic living. I was the epitome of that adage: “Fake it until you make it.” Truth be told, you can never make it if you’re living a fraudulent life—strutting someone else’s strut.
For decades, I was doing just that, although I wasn’t fully aware. I knew I was attempting to navigate the criticisms of my siblings who called me the black sheep of our Creole family; they called out my complexion, which was darker than theirs, and my hair, which was kinkier than their straight or “good hair.”
There was not much I could do about either. Initially, I slathered Nadinola, thinking it would result in a new improved me. When that didn’t happen, I switched to Noxzema—using it not as a cleansing cream but rather to lighten by skin color, or so I imagined. My great grandmother used it and I admired her complexion.
I endured the heat of the hot comb, which was ineffective against the New Orleans humidity; it sent my hair back to frizz. I was a walking example of Black-girl-low-self-esteem disorder.
That state of semi-depression didn’t end when I entered womanhood. Most people could not see the self-doubt that lay beneath the impressive veneer I erected. My best male platonic friend, Alonzo, did, however. One day when we were talking, out of the blue he asked, “You don’t think you’re an attractive woman, do you?
The question was such a surprise I said “No” without throwing up the fake.
“You are very attractive,” he told me. “Very striking. I don’t understand why you don’t realize that.”
Days later, when I reflected on his comments, I wondered what had he heard that gave me away, that opened the door , allowing him to know my self-doubt?
I quickly retreated however to that comfortable fake world until I could no longer hide from myself. My initial evaluation of who I am began with the writing of my book, Whatever Happened to Daddy’s Little Girl? The Impact of Fatherlessness on Black Women. Despite what I thought was a thorough examination of my life, there were gaps in the storytelling—places I did not want to travel, facts I did not want to share, even with myself.
You can run from other people but running from yourself is a difficult proposition. Each morning, you look in the mirror as you wash your face and brush your teeth. You may give yourself a half, deceptive smile, but deep down you know the revelation is not complete. Self-evaluation must be a repeat performance.
Most people won’t admit that they are using an external assessment locus: What do other folks think about me; have I acquired enough material wealth. We look around us at things and other people and determine sotto voce that we don’t measure up. That Black-girl-low-self-esteem thing is still alive and plunging us into a realm that is unhealthy—mentally, physically, emotionally. That sense that we’re not good enough, that we haven’t arrived strips us of our sunshine and joy. It steals our peace and balance. It robs us of the opportunity to embrace and experience our unique fabulousness.
I learned that as I took my second solo journey of self-reconciliation. It was 2008—eight years after the release of my book. You would think I would be riding on that proverbial Cloud Nine. Actually, I got lost and didn’t realize that fact until I found myself on the side of the road, dressed in someone else’s attire, speaking their words and once again in the fake-make role.
I was trying to hold onto a job in an environment where I was not completely happy because I had transformed into an appeaser—doing things to keep down conflict, persuade people to like me and hoping that would result in their acceptance. The hoop jumping left me frustrated and tired.
Truth be told, I was back in those Nadinola and Noxzema days. My skin color and gender surely were part of the equation. I took myself through a self-survey, which I now recommend for nearly every person who calls on me for personal or professional assistance.
Here are a few of the questions I asked:
·What is the one most thing you want from the interaction or experience in which you are involved?
· What would happen to you and how would you feel about yourself if you didn’t achieve that goal?
·On a scale of 1 to 10, how terrible would those results be in the scheme of the life you have planned for yourself?
· What is the life you have planned for yourself over the next year? The next two years?
· Who is the most important evaluator in that life?
· If that evaluator is not you, why isn’t it you?
· When did you turn over control of your pleasure, happiness or sense of success to someone else?
· Why did you relinquish that control?
· Has turning over such control made you happier?
·Do you want to be happier?
·Right now, what should you do, that would help you realize the happiness you say you want and believe you deserve?
·Why haven’t you done that thing?
·Are you ready to do it now?
That last question prompted me to ask for the raise I knew I deserve but worried that proposing it might cause trouble for me as I understood that others were evaluating me using a far different and less generous gauge. It also caused me to realize my true worth not just as an employee but as a person, as an African American woman.
Along the way, I discovered myself again. Not the fake me; not the me willing to placate; not the me prepared to sacrifice myself in service to others—others who often didn’t deserve my labor, my gifts, my time, even.
Those questions and several others I probed expanded my landscape, demanding my honest responses. Sometimes when we are being fraudulent, we think it a small lie—just one for the moment. But the lie leaches into everything and before we know it the liar smothers our real self.
Women smother themselves a lot serving others—children, husband, employees, etc. We act as if we don’t matter. We do. Our happiness matters.
I learned not to be ashamed of seeking it, protecting it and enjoying it. Equally important, I came to understand that I am the arbiter. I am the decider. I am truly the queen, shaping the world in which I reign—regardless of my skin color, my hair, my hips or my spaghetti thin legs.
That makes me the queen and the poem.