Strive to Thrive (aka: A Self-Love Letter)

People are a mess, aren’t we?

I mean, we try. We each do our best to survive the Monday, to make it to the end of the year, year after year. But who wants to live a life that’s all about surviving? It’s so much better when we strive to thrive.

(Did I just make up that slogan? Because I love it and would totally wear the t-shirt).

Thriving can be hard, though. Sometimes, really, really hard. We know what we need to do to live better, to be better people. But it takes a great deal of effort and consistency. Exercise more. Eat less. Read more, communicate better, and above all, love harder. Love your spouses, love your kids, love your neighbor, love yourself.

Self Love Collage

It’s that last one that throws people into a tailspin. What does that mean to love myself? Does that mean I’m not loving myself if I like to change my hairstyle or sculpt my body into a different shape? Isn’t it possible to love yourself too much and turn into a narcissist?

Let me clear this up: Self-love is not narcissism! Got it? They are two very different things.

Self love says:

I am worthy and valuable, and so are other people.

I deserve good things in my life, and so do other people.

I deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, and I will treat others the same way.

My goal is not to compete with those around me, but to constantly grow into a better version of myself.

I want to lift other people up so that they feel better about themselves.

Narcissism says:

I am superior to other people.

I am more worthy and valuable than others.

I deserve more good things than other people and envy those who are more successful than me.

People must admire me, or my ego will be shattered.

I must put others down in order to feel better about myself.

(You can read more about this here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201206/self-esteem-versus-narcissism)

Confident free happy woman

Self love is a necessary component to being a happy and secure person. It means looking in the mirror each day and fully accepting yourself — every blemish. Every scar. And know what else? When you can fully accept yourself, then you can also learn to fully accept others. Every blemish. Every scar. Self love lets you laugh at your silly quirks and flaws, and to forgive yourself. And when you can forgive yourself, guess what? You can forgive others.

It comes in that order. First you, then others.
A match with no flame can’t light candles. A lighthouse with no inner light can’t guide ships to shore. You’ve got to love yourself first. Turn on your light, my friends.

love hands heart

Today, I love:

Those tiny crinkles around my eyes when I smile; a marker of many years of smiles and laughter.

My short, springy, curly hair. Some days, I flat-iron it until it’s straights and long. But mostly, I wear it free, run my fingers through the soft curls. I love to stretch them out and watch them bounce back into shape. Boing! Just like that little girl in the Ramona Quimby story.

The way I rise early in the morning, ready to go for a run, ready to pull on my kick-ass boots , face the world, and smash my goals.

The inner wind that pushes me. It drives me forward until I see each project to completion. It focuses me, and enables my self-discipline when motivation fails me.

The treasure trove of stories that dance in my brain, eager to escape when I sit before a blank screen, ready to write.

I love my goodness, and my messiness, my corny sense of humor, even those moments when I feel too serious, overwhelmed by the misery and hopelessness in the world (like Artax, Atreyu’s horse, in the Swamps of Sadness).

Cute curly hair

Because I love myself, I will continue to strive to thrive, to do better, to be better. I will be my own queen, wearing my crown with pride. And I will do my best to lift up those around me, those who still struggle with loving themselves, until we are all kings and queens of our own destinies. There are plenty of thrones to go around.

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Me, My Selfie, and I (aka: Artistic Narcissism)

Yesterday, my teenage son explained that kids at his high school measure a person’s popularity by how many followers they have on Instagram. I do not have an account on Instagram, but from what my kids tell me, it is basically a website where teenagers (mostly girls) post selfies of themselves in various poses and outfits, then beg for attention from their friends (“How do I look with this hairstyle? Don’t I look so cute in this outfit?).

Now, as selfie was deemed 2013 Word of the Year by Oxford Dictionary, I’m pretty sure that most people know exactly what a selfie is, even if you live in a cave, like me. However, though most of us can agree what a selfie actually is, there appears to be a lot of dispute about why our culture is currently so obsessed with taking selfies, or about whether doing so is a positive or negative thing.

My first thought about selfies? What a stupid waste of time! My second thought about selfies: How narcissistic! My third thought about selfies: I wonder if I should take a quick selfie to post on my blog post about selfies?

Image

upside down selfie

Oooh, I wonder what I look like upside-down?

You see, I was all set to focus this article on Selfie-bashing. It is so easy to do. For starters, selfies appear to be a way for girls and women to seek attention, praise, and flattery for their appearance and sexuality, as opposed to their intelligence, accomplishments, and inner worth. (Don’t believe me? All it takes is a quick Google Image Search for Selfies to see a ton of disturbing examples of half-dressed young women trying to look sexy for the camera). Secondly, the idea that a young person’s self-esteem may be boosted or crushed by how many people give them positive feedback on their self-portraits is rather disturbing. (Please, guys…tell me that I don’t look too hideous with this haircut! I think it looks weird. Doesn’t it look weird? SOMEBODY TELL ME!!) Finally, there is something about seeing oneself from the perspective that others see us that can serve to heighten insecurities about one’s appearance. For example, I didn’t care at all about whether my curly hair looks unattractive, or whether my forehead was too shiny, or my chin too pointy, or my eyes uneven until just now, when I was studying my selfies. Oh no — is the rest of the world thinking these things when they see me, too? Aauuuggghhh!!!

But some people view selfies in a more positive light. Perhaps, like blogging, selfies are the average person’s way of “living out loud,” of making themselves feel visible in a large world. Selfies can be an expressive and empowering form of art, or a display of self-confidence — “I feel good about my appearance today and just wanted to share that with the world.” Additionally, Selfies, like blogs, can be a way to tell the world your story. Some people use them to chronicle their struggles fighting an illness, or to show the places they’ve been, or to pose with the people who are important in their lives.

Whether we choose to view The Selfie as the new evil of out times, or as a postive form of self-expression, or even as a neutral way to just be silly and have fun with our mobile phones, we cannot deny that they are a prevalent part of our culture. As a parent, the best that I can do is encourage my kids to respond to the trend in the most positive way they can. As far as being popular among their peers, well, I am lucky to have kids to whom popularity is of little importance. But even if it were, then I would give my children this advice: It is far better to be admired for the person that you genuinely are than to be admired for the person whom you present through the lens of your own camera.

Good Hair? (Nature vs. Beauty Among Black Women)

“I hate my hair,” my 11 year-old daughter says, frowning at her reflection in the mirror. “I wish my hair were longer/straighter/lighter/less frizzy.” I am stunned whenever she complains. My daughter’s hair is a shiny, chestnut-brown mass of bouncy, shoulder-length curls. A little water and a squirt of styling mousse, and her hair is absolutely gorgeous. I am crazy about her hair. How in the world can she not like it? She has such good hair.

My daughter's hair

My daughter’s hair

“I hate my hair,” I have always said, frowning at my own reflection in the mirror. “I wish it were longer/less curly/thicker/prettier.”

My mother and sisters were always stunned when I said this. “But you have such pretty natural curls,” they told me. “You have good hair.”

Good hair. It is perhaps the most emotionally charged and difficult issue for many African Americans; especially girls and women. What is “Good Hair?” It means tresses that are long, straight, light, shiny, bouncy, or wavy. It means hair that you can wash and go without spending much time and energy styling it to look nice. It means hair that swings from side to side when you walk, hair that you can flip over your shoulder, hair that you can slide your fingers through. It means not short, not kinky, not nappy or frizzy or poofy. Good hair means not African hair.

“You need to get that boy’s haircut,” one of my family members told me recently when I allowed my youngest son to let his thick, curly hair grow out for several months.“I am trying to give him the freedom to wear his hair how he likes it,” I said. “He wants big, poofy curls.”“He looks ridiculous,” said another relative. “It looks low-class when he wears his hair like that.” (Yesterday, I finally caved in and took my son to the barber shop. He was not a happy camper).

“You need to get that boy’s haircut,” one of my family members told me recently when I allowed my youngest son to let his thick, curly hair grow out for several months.
“I am trying to give him the freedom to wear his hair how he likes it,” I said. “He wants big, poofy curls.”
“He looks ridiculous,” said another relative. “It looks low-class when he wears his hair like that.” (Yesterday, I finally caved in and took my son to the barber shop. He was not a happy camper).

From an outsider’s perspective, it may be difficult to fully understand the depth of the struggles Black people have with hair. The pressure to conform to a particular standard of beauty has existed within the Black community since the days of slavery. There are external pressures to conform in order to obtain employment, to find a mate, or to fit in socially. There are internal pressures to conform in order to please or represent one’s family in an acceptable manner.

Many Black women spend hundreds of dollars each year in order to obtain what they consider to be good hair, although it often involves harsh chemical relaxers or costly hair weaves. Many feel that it is worth it, in order to have hair that is socially accepted, easy to manage, and makes them feel beautiful.

I have never turned to chemical straighteners to style my hair (unless you count one unfortunate Jheri Curl in the fall of 1988, which was a complete waste of money, since my own natural curls already resemble that once-popular hairstyle). However, at the age of 37, I still do not know how to style my own hair well. Since I prefer to be natural, I usually switch back and forth between wearing it curly and straightening it with a flat iron. Black women say that I have “Good hair.” But compared to other Black women, who usually choose the more expensive, non-natural methods, my hair usually looks messy, thin, and boring. Last summer, I nearly did not attend my 20-yr. high school reunion, because I could not figure out what to do with my hair and was in desperate tears before the mirror. When I finally gave up, shoved my so-called good hair into a messy ponytail, and attended the event, all of the other black women had intricate, fancy, beautiful hairstyles which I could never hope to do with my natural hair.

Good hair. Is it good because of the texture, the length, the color? Is it good because of how closely it resembles the current beauty trends of the mainstream culture? Is it good because it helps us to get the right job, or the right mate, or the right friends? Is it good because our families or communities tell us that it is good? Is it bad for the same reasons? How do we keep our children from internalizing the same sense of self-hatred for their natural beauty? How do I teach my own daughter to love her beautiful hair when I myself carry such negative feelings toward my own hair? It is such a tangled issue (pardon the pun), with such a web of deep emotions for many women of African heritage.

I leave you with this video clip from an episode of the Tyra Banks Show, in which she interviews mothers and their young daughters about their hair and issues they face. The responses from the little girls made me cry. The harmful self-images and which are so deeply set by the time we are adults begin so early in our lives. Will there ever come a day when the beauty of Black women will be as accepted and embraced as the beauty of women from other parts of the globe? For the sake of my daughter, and many other little girls who worry that their hair is not “good,” I certainly hope so.

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After years of thinking my natural curls were “bad,” I am trying to embrace them by going curly at least a few days each month. I no longer think they look terrible, but I would like it a lot better if they were much longer. I still hate having short hair. 😦

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