Give The Queen Her Props
I just realized since Lizzo has hit the scene she has burst through the gates of white supremacist standards in service of normalizing the beauty in every big girl, black or otherwise. Lizzo has been around for a while, I know. But, as UNcool as it may seem, I’m not always up on the latest trends and pop sensations. I find her to be inspirational to a swath of women who battle with finding their own beauty and boldness. And while I do believe she is a blessing to many, my uncovering of who I am and finding my inner and outer beauty had to come through me.
Finding My Own Barriers
Growing up, I was always that fat, black and boisterous girl. One time in elementary school a boy came up to me and said that he liked me. After I said “Really?!,” daring to believe him, he replied, scathingly, “Of course not, who could ever like you?” My sister told me it wasn’t my weight but my personality that would ensure I would never have a man. And I don’t know if I can ever forget Bernard who at the end of fifth grade called me over because he had something to say. I ran over willingly, having had a crush on him, hoping this was when he would profess his love. He slapped me in the face.
My journey to self love included a lot of lewd acts to please men who did not care about me. It included a lot of unrequited infatuation that resulted in lasting friendships that did not go beyond that moniker. It included sex with people I didn’t like under the guise of reclaiming my worth without realizing that I was using sex as a weapon against myself. I didn’t believe that I was desirable to those I actually liked. It included more than a handful of mental breaks to remind me of everything that I could be, which was everything that I hated. What it didn’t include, for the longest time, was me.
I once wrote in a poem “How does one run like a flower? / a bright, still, non-threatening burst of love?” This was in response to the many times that people named me intimidating for the ways that I burst toward my life and those I loved. I would not contain my body, my energy, or my love. I could not shrink myself for the sake of those who were unprepared to receive me. So when I had my first bout of psychosis, the world and my psyche did it for me. Pyschosis gutted me of everything: my emotions, my sense of relation, my libido. Oscillating between fear and numb, I would mourn the loss of my sense of identity between states of catatonia. In the midst of that I had to finish my final semester of undergrad. It took a year and a half.
What followed was a series of odd jobs and running off to figure out what God’s will was for my life. That included working in customer service in Florida, joining a cult in Georgia, working on a farm under a vicious taskmaster in Indiana, traveling in a van with hippies, going to festivals, living in the woods, joining a cult again, hitchhiking out of there, and then finally ending up on my knees in a hospital room in Kansas City, MO begging God to save me and show me what I had done wrong.
Finding Living Revelation
Here’s what I received: God’s will and purpose for my life was that I was alive. That I didn’t need to run off and do some great deed. I just needed to have the audacity to live and do what I love (Jeremiah 29:11). Sounds easy, huh? Perhaps. Except for the fact that hallucinations had beat me down, strung me out, and evacuated everything that I was that I didn’t know my right from my left.
So when the social worker in the psych ward gave me an option to return to my biological family in Florida or get a bed at a local homeless shelter in a city I had never been to and knew nothing about; I knew I had to do what would set me up for success. I was starting from the bottom. The bottom of myself, the bottom of existence, the bottom of this world with its many facets and contraptions. And the only way I could get up was if I stayed honest about where I was, consulted God, and took the steps to rise. I had to be accountable for my life (Matthew 25:14-30). So I accepted the three hots and a cot at a place called Restart and started anew. And that’s when the journey toward finding my beauty really began.
Finding The Climb
My new life entailed working at Wendy’s and then eventually getting a place in a Teacher’s Residency where I became a certified, degreed educator with a Master’s in Urban Education. During that journey, there were many tears as I realized that my faculties for cognitive thought weren’t what they once were. In the embrace of my friend’s presence, I cried out these frustrations to which he replied: “The only other person I have heard go through such trials was Jesus.” For some reason that gave me the push I needed to continue.
After four months in the homeless shelter I had found a home with an abusive friend who would sing my praises one moment and then cuss me out the next. A word of wisdom she gave me: “If you can’t handle the venom, don’t mess with the snake..” I eventually left that place and moved in with another friend. During the Panny in 2020, I quit my job as a teacher to find a better way to educate and live out my career as a writer, musician and eventually, an organizer.
Finding My Way Home
I remember the first time I felt emotions again. It was in a coffee shop in 2019. I was alone. I almost had a panic attack. No one was available by phone, so I just had to breathe through it. After five years I was feeling emotions again for the first time. It was just a trickle, but raindrops of any sort upon dry earth is a blessed hallelujah. After that other faculties started returning. My ability to learn, to be myself, to feel love and my friends’ connections. I remember crying at storm clouds, not because they reminded me of trauma, but because I was stunned in gratitude for all things great that were beyond my control. That was the first time I had felt gratitude in five years and that’s when I learned that gratitude itself was a gift.
As I started returning to myself, I slowly gained my sense of style. I found beauty in a fashion aesthetic that was all mine. I started to recognize that I, myself, am a gift. My life and its many intricacies are a gift from some great beyond. I was not the One who put my emotions in me. Nor was I the One who afforded me my intellectual faculties. The only thing I was responsible for was cultivating these gifts with the diligence that they deserved. I learned to love myself, all facets of me. And this body that was once an eyesore in the mirror, began to shine brilliantly. As I realized it held on through every storm, through every evacuation of my entire self. It stayed faithful, even if bumped and bruised, walking with a limp. And how, in heaven’s name, could I hate such a gift?
Finding The Beauty in the Call Out
The reality of self–image is a messed up one. Especially when you realize your body — and finding your beauty — is based on standards that have nothing to do with you. That some other culture that knows nothing of where you come from judges your beauty. How dare I?! How dare any of us leave our self love, self worth, and self respect in the hands of such neglect? It was truly a gift to lose myself and to be able to find myself and my beauty again. Because now, no one can tell me anything about my worth. For better and for worse.
Calling In The Queens
It was Maya Angelou who said in an ICONOCLAST interview “Don’t pick it up. Don’t lay it down. For every time someone compliments me and I receive it, I have to also receive someone else’s hate. Know who you are and walk in that knowing.” So Lizzo, thank you for the ways your boldness has inspired so many others to walk in their self worth. And though I did not pick up on that inspiration and had to find my own path through the dark, it is worthy work we do to stand as warm lights, hearths, in this place that we are learning to remember as our true home.