I wrote on Facebook a few days back that I’d like to exist outside of race. I knew when I wrote it that it was the type of thing that needs explaining. I knew most either wouldn’t understand or would draw from it a message I never meant to send. But still I said it because
it’s my page and aint nobody bout to stop me from saying what I want, feel me? it was on my mind and I wanted to share. So here I am to flesh out those bare bones and make myself clear.
I don’t live in an imaginary utopia. Aint no postracial nothing around here (even though I recognize that race only exists because we insist it does). I understand hatred and oppression are alive and well, but I cant trod around in that muck and mire and expect to still have energy left for living. Tried it. It just don’t work.
I guess it was becoming a parent that changed things, because I promise blackness never weighed so much before. I was just as aware and informed, just as down for the cause, but there was no fear, no worry. I had the utmost confidence that this world would do me right. But now I have little black children in my care, and my confidence gets shaky. Every time I hear about another black person killed by police, I rush to change the channel before my kids can understand the implication of such an act. Every time a little boy gets sent home for a “distracting” haircut or a little girl for a natural hairstyle, I think of all the hell my usually calm self would have to raise in defense of my babies. Every time I read about black kids not getting the same attention and consideration in the classroom, I question the otherwise satisfactory school I send them to. It’s a lot. It’s suffocating. I can’t sustain.
There is a quote that says, “What you focus on expands.” I promise its true. I see it and feel it, engulfing me, closing in around my neck, inching up toward my mouth and nose. It makes me feel helpless, like no amount of loving and teaching and protecting will shield my children from those whose minds are already set. It’s a lot. It’s suffocating. I can’t sustain.
I miss the days when blackness reminded me only of joy and strength. When it made me think only of Malcolm’s smile and Garvey’s feathered hat. When it made me think only of Bethune’s pearl necklace and Soujourner Truth’s crisp, white bonnet. It was the excellence, grace and steel of blackness that always stood with me and held me far above an anger I could have rightfully settled in. Growing up, blackness was about family and resilience, about making a way and finding a way. It was about the bump and rhythm of black communities, the laughter that never gets drowned out by pain. Perhaps I was just naive, but I’d like to go back there.
So if its ok with you, I’d like to suspend my blackness for a bit. Hang it up, give it a breather. I’m not going to do anything to my appearance. I was just hoping I could, you know, be. Was hoping I could get a few carefree days where my only concerns would be what to put in my first grader’s lunch and how to keep my house clean. Was hoping I could get lost in the humdrum of everyday life, lulled to peace by the regularity and predictability of it all. A girl can dream, right? Free of worry. Free of worry. Free of worry.
That’s important, the “free of worry” part because I
need to must raise children who feel free to take ownership of this world. We don’t do cages. They have to know they can go anywhere and everywhere their efforts take them. But how will they know that if they’re trapped in fear? How will they know that if they learn from me, directly or indirectly, that the world is out to get them? I can’t do that to my babies. Might as well bind their hands and feet. The effects would be the same.
Can I really relinquish my blackness? Of course not, but I can disengage and go into my cocoon. I can stick my fingers in my ears and pretend not hear any of the pounding. May not be the best tactic, but it’s all I got. I’m tired.
Sigh, the perfect body. What is that? No hypotheticals here; this is a real question. Better yet, let’s put that on hold. What I really want to know is, who told us what the perfect body is? Who convinced a whole society of people that particular body parts have to look a particular way? Who set the parameters of what acceptable butts, breasts, bellies, thighs and faces look like? Is it the film industry, the music industry, magazine publishers, the media in general? If so, how did they get to be so powerful? How did they, in their grand intelligence and wisdom, become the purveyors of aesthetic truth? More importantly, why did we, women of the world, give up our right to define beauty based on our own personal standards? As you can see, I got questions.
Because as I read about Kelly Mayhew, a 34-year-old woman who died after receiving butt injections in someone’s basement, I wonder about her thought process leading up to the event. I wonder how unsatisfied she must have felt when she looked at her body. I wonder if she obsessed over how big her butt wasn’t, over how much it didn’t look like the mythical ideal we’ve all been convinced of. I wonder if she found a shady-looking ad for basement butt injections and thought, “Yes, that’s exactly what I need!” I wonder if any part of her felt uneasy about getting a medical procedure done in a basement. I wonder if she even researched the practitioner or if she simply put blind faith in the intoxicating idea of achieving Nicki Minaj’s posterior. Lastly, I wonder if her fully informed, loving mother (and I use the word “loving” with all sincerity) ever thought to advise her daughter against altering her body in such an unhealthy and unprofessional way. But then again, why would she? We’ve all had a sip (or a gulp) of the “perfect body” Kool-Aid.
We’re all affected, including me
It’s a lot to carry, this body hate, this body obsession. It clouds our minds and fogs our vision. Makes it hard to see reality for what it is. Because the reality is that Ms. Mayhew’s butt (along with the rest of her body) was just fine. I can say that without having ever seen it because I reject any and all rigid standards imposed on female bodies. Intellectually, that is. I reject them intellectually, with all of my consciousness. But in the recesses of my mind, though, in those shaded areas that only absorb and feel, I am no different. I have felt that same unsettling sense of dissatisfaction. I have made unrealistic comparisons and had fanciful thoughts of “what if,” and “if only.” How could I not?
Apparently, a woman’s body is not her own. It is but a blank screen to have projected onto it the motives and schemes of the world. It is a receptacle, a holding place for lust and distraction. At least that’s the undercurrent. But not to worry, the face of the message is much more palatable. It’s covered in sexy cool and sounds like liberation–or a believable imitation. It sounds like your favorite song, like the tingle of validation, like the buzz of the male gaze, like the opposite of lonely. It sounds like everything we are taught to want to hear.
Hard to believe it’s actually toxic.
Redefining the Perfect Body
When the illustrious Sir Mixalot said, “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” this is not what he had in mind. His goal wasn’t to shame women who don’t have big butts, but rather to stretch a restricting beauty convention. We should all move to stretch the ideas that have been bred into us. We should all move to re-center our thinking around a spacious and inclusive standard that allows each woman to feel complete as she already is.
So that’s where I am now: re-centering, restructuring. I’m retraining my eyes to see myself in a way that I can be proud of, that my daughter can be proud of. Rather than itemizing each part and comparing it to something that may or may not be real, I take it in its entirely and marvel at the strength. I have a butt that cushions my fall. I have breasts that allowed me to feed both my children. (Not once did I have to use formula.) I have a belly that offers me balance on a daily basis, not to mention it grew my children without complication. I have thighs that carry me through life with ease, and I have a face that allows me to experience this world. I’d say that’s a perfect body. Wouldn’t you?
This is part 2 of a 2-part feature on emotional issues. These articles are meant to be a stepping stone to healing, but are by no means a cure-all. It is best to seek professional help to guide you on your journey.
In the first installment, we talked in general terms about becoming aware of emotional issues/themes and how they can negatively affect our thoughts and behaviors. Now it’s time to put a face and name on those themes.
A theme is a unifying or dominant idea, an overarching concept that connects and defines items in a group. In this case, the group is comprised of life events, specifically those that have greatly impacted you and shaped your worldview.
There is no finite list of emotional themes, but there are certain ones that show up frequently. Let’s examine them, shall we?
Common Emotional Themes
- Abandonment: Perhaps the most popular of all emotional themes, abandonment is the feeling of being unfairly left behind or discarded. This theme could be rooted in a physical abandonment (someone leaving), but it can also refer to perceived abandonment that may have nothing to do with physical absence. If this is one of your primary themes, you may find that you rush into relationships or expect too much too fast (or just too much in general), which, in turn, may run the person off. Your feeling of abandonment is then itensified and the cycle continues.
- Loss: Loss may seem very similar to abandonment, but the main difference is that loss isn’t intentional. It involves someone or something
- Over Responsibility
You just want to sit up in your funk and wallow. You ain’t thinking about working it out; you don’t want to give it another try; you don’t even want to hear a apology. You’re just hot. And you know what, you kinda like it.
Come on, admit it. (Nobody’s looking and you know I won’t tell.) Just admit how it sometimes feels good to stew in your anger. I can admit it, but I’m still wondering why. What makes a person want to stay angry? What’s up with that? Ego: that’s what’s up. Our egos get a couple hundred strokes every time we have a pity party. We tell ourselves grand stories about how we’ve been wronged and why we have the right to be mad, the right to wear a scowl, the right to make every cell vibrate with negative, weakening energy. Sure, its your right, but is that really what you want?
I went ahead and answered that for you because I already know the deal: It’s not that you want to be unhappy. It’s that you’re comfortable there and scared of the unknown.
Change is hard… and scary
If I had a dime for every time I tried to permanently change something about myself and failed, I’ll have a lot of money. Change is easy to want and hard to implement. It takes planning and determination. It takes a willingness to go at it again, and again, and again, and again. But, most importantly, it takes a deliberate and forceful silencing of the inner voices.
Those voices, man… I could write an entire post about destructive inner voices (and I probably will at some point). They’re just so convincing. I mean, they will really have you listening to them, as if their words are finite and final, as if they aren’t hollow, made of flimsy doubt and fear.
It’s those voices that make you comfortable. They tell you nothing will ever change, and you believe them. They tell you your marriage has run its course, and you believe them. They tell you happiness exists only outside your relationship and you will never achieve it from within, and you believe them. So why bother? Sure, you’ll be cordial and go through the motions, but real effort? Why bother?
And this is the thinking that traps and binds.
You do as little as possible just to get by. You make small gestures in the name of “starting over,” but you don’t really believe, and so you don’t really try. After all, why beat a dead horse? Why support a dying cause? Your energy would be much better spent on something that could actually make you happy, wouldn’t it?
And that’s the scary part: the idea that you could genuinely put forth real effort and still not be happy, still not accomplish anything, still feel rejected, still feel alone. Feeling like a failure when you’ve given up is doable, but having that same feeling when you’ve poured yourself into something wholeheartedly, that seems unbearable. And so we dampen our efforts and get comfortable in the dark, too scared to travel into the blinding light of the uncertain. We settle down in our misery and become martyrs to fear–as if there were no other choice.
Abandon your life of fear and LIVE
But alas, there are choices! If only we’d open our eyes and allow ourselves to see them. How many other scary things have you faced and conquered? Maybe it was a scary movie at 8, or a roller coaster at 12, or the driving exam at 16, or a job interview at 21 or the decision to enliven your marriage that you’re facing right now. Because that’s really what it is: the decision to add life back into your marriage. Yes, it is risky–your spouse may not receive your efforts–but to stay where you are would be a disservice to yourself, your children (if you have any), and the commitment you made before God.
When you allow yourself to live in anger, the whole family suffers. Sure, the marriage takes a hit, but you, on an individual level, take a major blow as well. And of course that trickles down to the kids. Of course that trickles down to your parents, your siblings, your friends and co-workers. Everyone in your intimate circle feels the aftershock of your choice.
Your own body will rise up in protest because of the disharmony you created. (Read: headaches, physical illness, anxiety, etc.) Yes, I said, “you created.” You’ve got to own it. If anything is to change (and I hope by now you’ve decided it should), you have to take ownership. This isn’t about absolving your spouse of any blame. It is about acknowledging that you were powerful enough to take part in this undoing, and so have the power to mend and rebuild.
This is your life. Yours. No one else can experience it for you, so let NO one and NO thing force you into decisions you’ll regret. And this whole “put my marriage on auto pilot” thing you got going, you will regret that. Of this, I am certain.
If you’re ready to leave your comfort zone and try something that can get you moving in the right direction, take the 365 Marriage Oath.
You can learn a lot from Facebook, a whole lot. Every time we update our statuses, we flash quick rays of light into the corners of our minds, momentarily exposing their inner workings. Some of the things we expose are insignificant, others are rather telling, like messages about your relationship.
My heart goes out to the perpetually troubled because I know that has got to be a hectic place to be. Consciously, I’m sure you hate the drama and dream of something better, but subconsciously, you enjoy it. Either because it is all you know or all you think you deserve, you’ve gotten comfortable with the fights, the distrust, the lies, and the whole up and down nature of it all. It’s familiar and, oh, how we love the feeling of familiarity.
You don’t get something different from just wanting it. You’ve got to actually do something different. We all have patterns of being, ways of doing things, ways of thinking. And these patterns are either conducive or non-conducive to the goals we’ve set and the lives we want to lead.
I doubt anyone has “being in a bad relationship ” as a goal, but for many of us, our patterns of being anchor us to that type of experience. Look at your current and past relationships. If you find that you continually end up in the same type of situations with the same type of person, at some point you’ve got to accept that fact that the common denominator is always you.
You can’t control what others do, but you can control what you allow into your life. More importantly, you can control what you invite into your life. Of all the good and bad energies floating around out there, you invite certain ones in depending on the energy you emit. The way you talk, think, dress, and act all contribute to your personal energy. If your energy is of fear, anger, anxiety, insecurity, or false confidence, you will attract a person who feeds on that type of energy (most likely a user who will take advantage of your weaknesses). If your energy is of worth, strength, happiness, peace, love, appreciation, and genuine confidence, you will attract a person who feeds on those qualities.
But all this means nothing to you. You’re not into all this theoretical, philosophical mumbo jumbo. You like to deal with concrete realities, so let’s get concrete. The guy that you’re with now. You knew a long time ago he wasn’t the one. You either heard things about him through the grapevine or felt something about him from his presence, but you went along with it anyway. You’ve probably convinced yourself that “it is not that bad,” because “he’ll change when he see how good of a woman I am.” The truth is that he’ll change only when he absolutely has to, when he realizes his current behavior will no longer get him what he wants, but you’re not ready to hear that yet. You’re thinking about how cute he is or how good he can make you feel. You’re thinking about how fun he can be (when he’s acting right) or how happy you are just to be with someone. That’s your focus, and that’s why you’re in a bad relationship.
You want something better, but you’re not quite ready to go get it. You’re not even sure how to get it or what it would be like to have it. What you do know is what you’ve got. It’s the same thing you’ve always had (consistent drama) and it’s comfortable. Even through the pain and emotional strain, it’s comfortable. One day–maybe even today–you’ll realize that comfortable isn’t always good. You’ll realize that getting the love you want means giving it to yourself first. And you’ll realize that all your bad relationships aren’t a coincidence or a curse, but a result of your own doing.
You know how it goes: You make plans for how you think things are going to go, you get really excited because you actually think it’s going to go that way, you start working on making it go that way, then you get discouraged when it does not go that way. I’m pretty sure I just described some aspect of your life. Maybe it’s your relationship, finances, career, family or some other personal issue, but you have to be able to relate at least a teeny weeny bit. I know this is part of your reality because there seems to be a built-in human tendency to lose our motivation quickly. What’s up with that? It’s like we have all the energy, passion and drive in the world until things get rough. Then, all of a sudden, we’re giving up left and right. How uncool.
Anything worth having is worth working for. You’ve heard that before and have probably said it to someone else in a pep talk or two, but have you really taken it to heart? Have you said it to yourself? There are so many things we fail at only because we stopped putting forth effort just at the time it was needed most. That’s ugly failure and it’s unacceptable. Well, it should be unacceptable, and maybe it is in a perfect world, but in our world, we’ve accepted it. We’ve allowed ourselves to believe the pitiful excuses that chop our legs right out from beneath us.
“I tried to lose this weight, but I’m just so busy.”
“I tried to open that business, but no one would invest.”
“I tried to save that money, but I have too many expenses.”
What excuses have you made? I’ll let you fill in the blank this time. I tried to_________, but________. Now that we’ve gotten our excuses out there, let’s look at them. Did you really try that hard, or did you just give up because it was hard? I know my answer. I bet you could guess. I’ve wasted so many opportunities to succeed at various things because I allowed myself to create and believe excuses. Shame on me. Shame, I say.
It would be a different case if I had failed honorably. Honorable failure–the kind where you genuinely give it everything you have, but God still steers you in another direction–is cool. It’s the new black. It’s cooler than skinny jeans. Why? Because of the priceless lessons you get out of it. When you fail at something honorably, you get to see how strong you are, how much wherewithal you have, and what not to do next time. These are all precious gems that ugly failure does not offer. The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that the former let their failures inspire them while the latter let their failures stop them. We must all abandon the latter group.
While success is always the long-term goal, the immediate goal should be… (drum roll, please)… consistency. This is the stuff your dreams are made off. Consistency isn’t glamorous or cute. In fact, it’s pretty low key. It’s nothing more than a stubborn dedication to keep going, period. Regardless of how hard it gets, regardless of how unmotivated you may be feeling in the moment, regardless of everything that threatens your willingness to continue, consistency makes you keep going. It doesn’t worry if you don’t see the results immediately. It doesn’t worry if it’s taking longer than you anticipated. It just keeps stepping, knowing that, no matter how small the steps may be, they’re still moving you closer to the grand prize you seek.