Believing I Am Beautiful

I remember being teased a lot for many different reasons.  I was teased for being a church girl, not having a perm, my hair being short, being dark, being chubby, not wearing the flyest clothes or having a boyfriend all the time.  Do not feel bad for me.  I did my fair share of teasing and it was not just in defense of myself, but as a way to mark my territory.  I was very good at hitting you where it hurt and laughing about it loudly in your face.  Despite being teased all through primary school, I think the words that always hurt the most were those that came from my father.

My father would say things like, “I hope you don’t think you are cute, because you are not?” or “You are so fat.” or “No one will ever want you.  You are going to turn out just like your crackhead mother.”  or  harsher words that cut much deeper and left internal scars that took years to heal.  Looking back at my pictures, I was actually pretty thin.  I was in ROTC and the marching band, which forced me to workout a lot and we never had a lot of food to eat, so it wasn’t like I over ate.  He said those things to hurt me and to control my perception of myself.  His words always stuck with me.  When I looked in the mirror I saw someone who was ugly, fat, and never good enough.

I was the late bloomer.  I was shaped like Taylor Swift my freshman year of high school but the following summer the Lord saw fit to allow me to blossom.  As I started to become more shapely, my father’s words became harsher and cut deeper.  By this time, my stepmother had moved back to Connecticut and I only had my girlfriends to help me get through these fragile years.  Thankfully, many of them had older sisters and their words of wisdom helped me to appreciate the young woman I was becoming ,but that only helped on a superficial level.  I understood that I was physically changing for the better but my self-esteem remained the same.  Low.  The foundation of your self-esteem is built at home and my home was filled with destructive words instead of words of love and power.

I never realized how hard I was on myself until my sophomore year of college.  I cannot pinpoint the moment or the exact set of events that led up to my epiphany, but I remember being in the car with my friend and she turned to me and said, “You look different.  You look very pretty.  I don’t know what it is but you look good.”  I remember that moment so vividly and I looked in the mirror and there wasn’t anything different about me except the fact that I had decided to just be happy.  I made the conscious decision to stop being so critical of myself and pointing out all of my flaws because I wasn’t going to change.  I learned to accept myself and find the beauty in my being.

My journey towards a happier me was slow and riddled with pitfalls, mistakes and setbacks.  I reached a pinnacle of happiness the year I prepared for my friend’s wedding.  I set a weight loss goal and focused on cleaner eating.  I worked hard at my job but I was also having the time of my life.  That year was amazing from start to finish and I vowed to only go higher from there.

When I look in the mirror I still notice my flaws but I don’t use them to deconstruct myself down to the studs.  I see an issue with my skin, I go and find a treatment regimen that will clear it up.  I don’t like how I look in my clothes, I prepare a workout regimen or set a running goal and stick with it.  If I am ever unhappy, I try to get to the root of the problem and deal with it accordingly.  This is the new me.  The me that arrived in 2005 and believed that I was beautiful because I am.

Our words changes lives.  Our words empowers.  Our words destroys.  Use your words wisely.  Build up yourself and those around you.  Be proud of who you are and work hard to be better each day.  Believe that you are beautiful.

Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

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Shaming Victims Empowers Abusers

Today was an emotional day for all of the wrong reasons.  I caught wind of some statements made by Stephen A. Smith on his show First Take.  He and his co-host were covering the 2 game suspension of Ray Rice due to his highly publicized domestic violence incident with his wife. Despite very few people knowing the exact details of what occurred in the elevator, Mr. Smith decided to glide into the discussion of domestic violence.  His statements have been transcribed and the two-minute clip is easily accessible.

The words that hit me in my gut were “let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions” and “And I think that just talking about what guys shouldn’t do, we got to also make sure that you can do your part to do whatever you can do to make, to try to make sure it doesn’t happen.” followed by  “we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. “Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way.”

I immediately read the entire transcript of his statements again.  I stopped to think about what I just read and decided that there was no way this man could have said these words on national television, so I read the transcript a third, fourth and fifth time.  I wanted to be clear about what was said, the context in which his words were used and to affirm any disbelief that I had of these words being used against victims of domestic violence.

I am not here to discuss the scenario that these comments stemmed from or to discuss how many women “provoke” men to hit them.  I am here to simply say that these types of statements, made by powerful people with platforms, based on extremely complicated & damaging situations are overly simplified.  They are overly simplified by dismissing the severity of a man hitting, punching, slapping, grabbing, shaking, pushing or verbally abusing a woman.  It not only shames victims, but it empowers the abuser.  Everyone is clear on the old saying, keep your hands to yourself, but no one has the right to dismiss a persons uncontrolled temper as simply actions that were caused by someone provoking them.

I shared a piece of my own story of watching my mother being abused as a 2 year old and it took me to a place of pain, because I know a man who used to say that she provoked him.  That something as simple as not speaking loud enough, looking away from him or not being where he wanted you to be, when he wanted you to be there was what provoked him to leave a boot print in her back.  So when a man says that you should not provoke a man to abuse you, I ask how.  How can a woman not provoke a man who has already resolved to abusing her? To controlling her? To making sure she knows her place in this world and in his house? How can she avoid the abuse when she is not working and has children to feed? How can she avoid the abuse when she does not have any transportation to flee from her abuser? How can she stop the abuse when everyone around her is in denial and refuses to help her?

My own story is not one that I share alone, but one that was echoed by many women over my timeline.  This story was shared by men and the abuse their mothers endured.  Domestic violence has left many women dead.  Domestic violence has left many children motherless.  Domestic violence has damaged many people’s self-esteem, life and livelihood.  Domestic violence is not a casual conversation to be governed by a PSA from a sports newscaster.  Domestic violence is not a topic that can be simplified and a general band-aid placed on for your comfort.  Domestic violence is real.

As we speak women are enduring the abuse of a man.  As we speak someone is being murdered for attempting to leave their abuser.  As we speak the search for an abuser who left a child alone while he killed their mother is happening.  Everyday.  We hear the same story over and over, but somehow we come right back to pointing fingers at the victim.  She created this problem.  She stayed.  She is dumb.  She should have known.  She, the victim is not worthy of our empathy because clearly she provoked him.

I want to go so much deeper into my own story, but to wade in those very dark waters would take me to a place I am not ready to go to.  To all of the men that decided that verbally abusing me on Twitter would convince me that all women provoke men, know that I am unbothered and will not waver in standing up for victims of domestic violence.  If you know me, than you know I do not play.  If you do not know me, come for me when I did not send for you on a topic that is too real to me, and you will find out quickly that you cannot stand toe to toe with me on a topic I have experienced and can back up with numbers.

This is the beginning of a deeper conversation.  One that many of us are afraid to have because although the wounds are not visible, for many, they still remain.  To those who have endured abuse, survived abuse, know someone who may have even died, I pray for you and know that you cannot be silenced.

If you are a victim, you should not be ashamed.  Shame on your abuser. Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.