My girl Akilah over at EXECUMAMA challenged me to write a letter to myself, listing all the reasons why I love me. My letter is almost a week in the making. It did not come easy to me. See, I was always the nerdy one—the girl who buried her head in books and got lost in music and daydreamed behind closed doors. Because I couldn’t find the words. Because I was uncomfortable looking others in the eye. Because I’d been taught that children were supposed to see and not be seen, and it never, ever quite wore off.
I owned the quiet—peace, be still. Head down, nose to the grind.
It took me a long time to look up—to face myself in the mirror and appreciate what I saw. It was a guy friend of mine (a buddy, not a love interest) who literally held a mirror to my face. “Look at you,” he demanded. My face was so close to the glass I could see a cloud of my breath steam on my reflection. “You are beautiful, Denene. I can see it; why can’t you?”
I was all right, I guess. Never been one to brag.
But today, I will. Because Akilah asked me to. And because she’s right: Sometimes, you gotta remind yourself exactly what it is that you love about you. Here goes:
I love my eyes and my lips and my smile, and especially my chocolate skin. Understand that this is relatively new. Growing up, I avoided the sun like the plague—it makes you black, you know. Where I come from, being anything darker than a paper bag put you smack dab in the friend zone—and even further down the boyfriend chain if your hair was short and kinky. Which explains, in part, why I didn’t get my first kiss until damn near college. Fools. These days, I’m all, “the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice,” and I really couldn’t care less if you don’t appreciate it. It looks great with a smoky eye and a subtle red Bobbi Brown lip gloss, but I like it best bare—clean, simple, flawless.
I love my butt. This is big. Not my ass, but the fact that I truly love it—finally. Like my dark skin, my butt was a sin ‘round my way. If you couldn’t fit it in some Jordache or some Lees, it was too big for most of the guys I grew up with in Long Island, New York. (Mind you, had I grown up around some black boys in, say, Brooklyn, I’d have been knocked up by age 14.) For years, I tried my best to camouflage it—I tied sweaters around my waist and wore baggy pants and long, bulky sweaters, a desperate attempt to shrink it any way I could. Of course, it never worked. There’s no hiding this thing. But these days, it’s all about the booty (with nods to J-Lo, Beyonce), and there are companies that actually sell pants and skirts and dresses with stretchy fabric and accurate waist-to-booty ratios that make sense for women with hourglass figures (Banana Republic, Anthropologie, PZI, AppleBottom jeans). All of a sudden, my booty is in vogue and in properly sized clothing. What’s not to love?!
I love my sense of humor. I got jokes. I don’t know where this comes from. It’s that sarcastic, dry, witty thing. It is what it is. And it makes people laugh. I love to make people laugh. It's good for their souls. It's good for mine.
I love that I'm generous. I don't have a lot, but what I do have, I give freely. Because it's the right thing to do. Understand, I'm not talking about cash (though if I have it and you need it, you got it); I'm talking about my time and sweat. I'm a pretty good listener—a pretty good comforter. And I'm usually always ready to dig in. I get that from my parents, I think. I watched my mom go above and beyond in church and with her friends, who were equally generous. My Dad is the same way. I can't tell you how many times I saw him fix a stray kid's bike, or replace the neighbor's heater, or change a stranger's tire. I love that about him, and anyone who knows me knows my Dad is my hero. I love his helpfulness, and so I help, too. Ask and you will receive.
I love my ambition and drive. It got me a scholarship to college, when my parents couldn’t afford tuition. It got me a great gig right out of college, in one of the largest news gathering organizations in the world. It got me to a high-paying position as a political reporter at one of the then-largest newspapers in the country, at the tender age of 23. It got me a column at Parenting magazine, and 18 book deals, including a No. 1 New York Times best seller. What’s most special about my ambition and drive, though, is that I don’t use mine like weapons; I don’t feel like I have to stomp all over someone else to succeed. Quite the contrary, even as I’m doing what I can to be better at what I do, I’m constantly looking for ways to help others get in the game. I am blessed, no doubt, because of this. I’m sure of it.
I can truly look at myself in the mirror today and appreciate what I see.
Indeed, I love me some Denene.
And I’m going to work harder to love me even more.
What are you doing to love you?