By now we’ve all heard of her. She is Lupita Nyongo. Her accent is musical. She is stunning in a way that isn’t singular but in spite of this manages to be the source of many a debate. The debate doesn’t go so far as to discuss the alignment of her facial features or the stark contrast between her white white teeth and her dark dark skin every time she breaks into a smile. It often remains fixated on the idea that she is too dark to be classed as beautiful. But none of that matters. She is stunning to me. The man that first said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder wasn’t a fool. When I think of beauty, sometimes I think of me. You see, I know me. I know my faults, and my failings and all my weaknesses. I know my disgusting bits so thoroughly that I do not see my redeeming qualities clearly. Some times I doubt that they exist. This is me. I am sure that sometimes, it is you too.
The other day, I said to my brother Gbaddy, “Gbaddy, I feel so monumentally stupid!” I was beating myself up over the fact that I’d come out of a negotiation even worse off than I was before it began. All I could see at the time was the stupid.
When I was seven, I climbed up to the top of a shelf to retrieve my year book for a girl I thought I would marry at the time. When I found it, I held unto it with both hands and pulled. My seven year old weird brain did not understand that without the book to tether me to the shelf, I would return to the ground in so forceful a manner that the entire misadventure would leave me without my two front teeth. I felt ugly, and stupid then. In my first year of high school some senior called me ‘scissor tooth’ as an affectation. I embraced it on the surface, but really, it was more diss than compliment. My late aunt would call me handsome. She always said it like an exclamation; like it was a breath of fresh air; like calling me handsome gave her joy. I didn’t see it. 12 year old boys with no front teeth, pot bellies of childhood, and malnourished arms and legs could not be good looking.
I got braces, I straightened out my overbite, and I got caps that masked the jagged edges of my childhood gaff, but they covered nothing. They healed nothing. I could finally smile with all my teeth, but nothing had changed. I was ugly to me. The girls marvelled at my new smile courtesy of Schubbs and dollars, and the expertise of Dr. Amy. I shifted the focus once reserved for loathing my teeth to the pot belly of childhood that had remained with me past my years of childhood. I did sit ups, maniacally, obsessively, reaching ever higher. At first it was 30, then it was 100, and then it was 300. I gained the abs, but my stomach didn’t grow any flatter. I had achieved the impossible. I had gained a defined 6 pack over a very rotund stomach.
I wasn’t particularly happier than I was before I’d begun, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a measure of contentment. I would at least get compliments for my 6 pack even if it was over the stomach typically found on a 40 year old suffering from abdominal obesity.
I’m 23 now. The pot belly is still there, but it’s smaller than it was. I’m skinny enough that people can see that I never actually had a pot belly. The illusion was the result of my curved back and abnormally large rib cage that my father swears I got from his father. My widow’s peak grows more lonely by the second and I feel fat. Well not fat per say, but that pot belly seems to be making a come back. If all of this had happened when I was 17, or 18, or even 19, I would have been distraught but now I’ve got an odd appreciation for these things. They really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. If my smile is perfect but not soothing, or contagious then what good is it?
All the wisdom my 23 summers have afforded me, has led me to see that no one holds the blue print on beauty. All that really matters is that you’re beautiful to you. You need to see the best of you. Someone once told me, “if you do not love you, how can you expect anyone else to?” I don’t believe that anymore. I think it should be more like, if you do not love yourself, then how can you expect to be deserving of the love that you receive?
I suppose this shows that the price of wisdom is youth, and that it does get better.
Photo Credit: Hakeem Salaam Photography