Editor's Note: My beautiful, inspirational, and ridiculously, deliciously funny friend Akilah over at EXECUMAMA is holding a "See Me Shine" contest; participants are writing what they love about themselves in exchange for a chance to win a complimentary make-up session and photo shoot. I didn't have time to pen an original, but I was reminded of this essay I wrote last year when Akilah challenged me to write a love letter to myself, listing all the reasons why I heart me. In support of her contest and in the spirit of breaking out of the ridiculous fear that, in Akilah's words, "people will be all, 'Yo, stop talking about your own self, we don't care!'" I decided to repost my essay as a reminder that it's okay every once in a while to give myself a hug and a pat on the back and say, "Job well done, D. Job well done."
Enjoy! (And hop over to Akilah's place to see how you can participate in this awesome contest!)
By Denene Millner
This 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?