Disclaimer: I know it has been a heinously long while (i.e. almost 2 years...yikes) since I last posted the initial post of this blog, and for that, I apologize. Life has a way of taking off without your permission, but I promise you, The Image Monster is definitely back, and here to stay on a more consistent basis...because I have much to say.
Now, on to more important things...
No trip home would be complete without that one thing that happens that makes your head spin like you're prepping for another sequel of The Exorcist. That one thing that makes you think, "That couldn't have POSSIBLY just come out of your mouth." And then that one thing is what you obsess over when the tree is taken down, the ham and mac & cheese is replaced with grilled salmon and sauteed kale, and your neighborhood drug/convenience store starts selling Valentine's Day cards.
Now before I tell you what that one thing is, you should know that I was enormously blessed in my acting career a couple of months ago by having starred in my first national commercial (Eeek!), from which I'm still reeling. An avalanche of love and positive, glowing feedback on the popular spot poured on me nonstop, for which I've never been more humbled and grateful. But there is one comment that has been made regarding it that I absolutely dreaded, because I had been thinking it was true anyway, but neglecting to say it aloud, so as not to get "Are you crazy?! Stop that!" backlash from my mega-supportive mom, boyfriend and best friends. The comment in question and that one thing I mentioned above are one in the same...and it was this statement that was uttered to me by an extended family member:
"You look heavier on T.V.! I mean, you look slender standing here right now...you look good...but what do they do with TV that makes you look heavier, because you look fat in the commercial!"
Yes. No need to readjust your computer, iPad or phone screen because what you just read was actually said to me. Verbatim. With a straight face.
AND I was making a plate of ribs, sauerkraut, black-eyed peas, and cornbread as it was being said (my fam's traditional New Year's Day meal).
Of course, these are the kinds of comments that you would expect solely from family, but it hadn't happened yet and I had been home for over a week by this point; I thought I was in the clear. Logically, I know I'm not overweight at all and totally recognize that I never have been (I workout regularly and eat way more healthy than unhealthy), but emotionally, sometimes it can be a different story when you're in this industry. I shouldn't have let my emotional guard down, because while I was mentally and emotionally prepared to deflect such comments when I first got home (or at least I thought I was), I was NOT prepared in that moment. And it kind of knocked the wind out of me. I responded in jest, as it felt most comfortable in the moment, and my other family members who were present all chastised the commenting family member swiftly, in an effort to reassure me that what was said was absolutely not the case. The moment breezed by with laughs and "She's so crazy! Damn, why are you so blunt?! Don't listen to her! You looked great!" and I continued to have a good time after trying to just brush it off with a sly joke/teachable moment of, "See there? That's why so many actors starve themselves!" (Let me be clear that I do NOT think eating disorders are a laughing matter. At all. I just know what kinds of twisted things families find funny in certain moments when delivered with perfect timing.)
While this may (or may not) have been a teachable moment for my commenting family member, it presented me with a powerful epiphany: so many of our black families feel that it is perfectly okay to comment on your weight--or on anything physical-- because it doesn't really affect you. After all, we pride ourselves on our ample curves handed down from our fore mothers, and we're notorious for being deceptively "strong" enough to handle anything anybody says/does to us. I practically grew up chanting, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." NEVER has a more untrue declaration ever been made.
Words do hurt us Sistahs. And bother us. And sink deep down into the psyche so far, that in some cases, you need therapy to extract them. While I'm not calling the nearest therapist, I did have to really sit down with myself and really reflect on how many instances this had happened in little, almost indiscernible ways. And I KNOW that I'm not alone. What black woman hasn't heard some version of this from a family member:
"You better be careful/watch out." with a joking smile as you reach for a cookie. "
"You've put on a few, but the weight looks good on you!"
"What's this make, your third plate?!" when it's actually your second plate with servings tinier than your previous servings.
All of it feels light-hearted and funny in the moment, but we all know that there's nothing funny about it when we still hear those comments while looking in the mirror. And this doesn't just go for weight gain. Family members tend to give unsolicited comments on everything from our hair to our complexion to our facial features to certain body parts, or in some women's cases, when they think the woman needs to gain weight because she's "too skinny." These seemingly harmless jokes/statements bury themselves in our consciousness and help shape what we think about ourselves, and consequently, the decisions we make. Studies continue to show that black women wrestle with eating disorders at a higher rate than white women (see this article The Root published a couple of years ago based on their findings) , including but not limited to anorexia, bulimia, and--as an opposite effect of commenting on one's weight gain--binge eating, which is even more prevalent than the previous two. Those unwanted statements are also what eventually drive some of my sisters to want nose jobs, butt implants, or skin lighteners. It's what drives some women into the hands of an abusive relationship because they think "this is the person who loves me for who I am, " when it's really a manipulative tactic of abusers, making the woman feel like he/she is the only person who is going to love them.
We love our families--surely--but it's time we start setting boundaries on what can be said. I have definitely told my Dad before, with love, that he can no longer comment on my weight. Or my step-mom's. Or my sister's. It's just not allowed. He's a totally great guy and I love him dearly, and he knows that, but it's important to still set certain boundaries even with those we are the closest to. It's also important that we check in with ourselves--really check in--and assess and see if the negative things we think about ourselves came from someplace outside of ourselves. In most cases, they did. And while it may be impossible to undo all of the conditioning, start by looking in the mirror and finding something you love about yourself every day. Even try saying something positive every day about that one thing that family commented on growing up. I mean it. I DO it. Every single day. Make it a New Year's Resolution, if you must (contrary to the hate I'm seeing on Resolutions lately, they are still an extremely positive thing to have in your life and push people to move forward). Because loving ourselves is the greatest Christmas gift we could ever give to ourselves as we we begin to navigate 2014.
And don't worry...I still enjoyed my ribs, sauerkraut, black-eyed peas and cornbread guilt-free. With a glass of wine. :)