I struggle with vulnerability. The word itself makes me uncomfortable. The idea of having to subscribe to “the state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally” is not a comfortable feeling. I always believed I spent enough time with someone or in place, it would ease my customary anxiety but just a comment, an action, or even a location can send me back to a space where I felt nothing but vulnerable. I have seen how the distance I create causes others to feel weary of me . It causes distrust, resentment, and ultimately avoidance. I may try to explain all but it never seems quite enough. I write this at a time where I feel more exposed than I have in years but I lend these words to images that made me feel seen positively. Hopefully, they balance each other out.
Photography by: Tatyanna Chamere
I looked up from my phone completely unaware of what I’ve been going on for the past two minutes only to catch the last bit of a conversation from two very chic women.
“I mean her life looks interesting but we all know that can’t be true she’s probably just super unhappy and super miserable. I mean look at her? Nobody can look that amazing and be that happy all the — wait, she’s coming up. She said she’s here.”
The two quickly adjusted their faces just before an equally elegant woman, LV’d down to the socks sauntered up and embraced them with an excited giggle and a big smile. They mirrored her with the same enthusiasm before they both linked arms and walked up to the café like a scene from the Sex And The City movie
In my mind, I immediately began to criticize. How could these women have been so terrible? And then just smile in her face like they had not just come for her entire life? Firmly perched on my pedestal, I turned my attention back to my phone and started scrolling casually through Instagram. Before I knew it, I had fallen off my holy than thou art throne into my own shallow pool of hypocrisy.
“Wow, must be nice to be rich when daddy is footing the bill.”
“Her Loubs aren’t even all that. I know them sh*ts hurt.”
“He ain’t even that cute to be shirtless like that all the time.”
All while double tapping to show my social sign of approval and acceptance
From my days in college, the idea of being fake friendly was not foreign to me. My alma mater is known for people showering each other with praises and graces, only to turn around and slander each others names. To say that I didn’t participate would be a lie. It was extremely easy to get caught up in the mess. I would often sit in a corner with some friends, drink some wine in “kiki” about people on social media before turning around to collaborate with them on group projects about the dangers of sexual miseducation. **nervously clears throat**
My slight wake up call happened during a particularly difficult time in my life. Brooding over a bad break up and on going school stress, I posted a picture with a cryptic caption about being happy when things weren’t going well. The picture had been taken weeks prior, when I was happier and much more “in love”. I saw my notifications ring with words of affirmations and love. With an uplifted mood but head still down, I entered my apartment elevator and moved to the back. I barely lifted my head to see two girls enter the elevator, glued to their phones as well. I could hear their cackles through my Afrobeats blasting through my earphones and decided to be nosy.
“Sis, look at her brows. They look like enemies.”
“Flat chested ass. She thinks she cute because she cut her hair. Who cares?”
The picture was mine and the two girls were people I thought to be friendly acquaintances . It hurt and broke my already fragile state into pieces.
I’m much more aware these days of how critical people can be of what they see on social media. The likes and comments, though I like to think come from a place of genuine love and respect, can also just be nothing more than a socially normative routine done to hide indifference, envy, or simple distaste. The problem with this fake reality is that getting caught up in the mess of it has become normalized. What we don’t quantify is the toll it can take on people. Sometimes it’s better to go ahead and unfollow, unlike, and log off.
On Maame: Top & Skirt: Forever21|Jacket: H&M | Shoes: Stan Smiths| Scarf: Amazon Fashion |Rings : Forever21
On Seynabou: Top: Forever21|Pants: Express |Jacket: H&M | Shoes: Stan Smiths|Rings : From Senegal
Photos by: Morgan Daniels
It’s very seldom that I ask for help. Being raised in a “Go and look for the answer and then comeback to me” type of household stunted my quickness to seek assistance at an early age. I eventually learned through so many avoidable but necessary lessons about the humility in asking for help. But it wasn’t until fairly recently did I begin to ask for direct assistance in anything creative in my life. In the past, I’ve always just tried to place myself in a creative space and hope and pray that I could be offered assistance without looking “needy” or “greedy.” And in a similar pattern, I made avoidable mistakes in my creative life. Losing out on certain opportunities and people were enough of a lesson for me to swallow my pride and reach out to people who have always been present.
Thank you to Seynabou and Morgan for being present and ready to ride in my creative journey.
As a child, when I’d come home to my mom complaining about being teased about my body, she’d tell me I was “big boned. And it made more sense because I was eight and literally bigger than everyone else. I was the weird African girl who brought rice and stew for lunch, but I was also the big African girl who brought rice and stew for lunch. As I transitioned through elementary, middle, and then on to high school, my size and height became far less interesting. It was my over-developing teenage hips and ass that caught stares.
As confident as I am with my current body size, it’s simply rooted in the fact that I’ve maintained it since I was fourteen. I’m grateful that I fill out the clothes when I wear them now, but at fourteen I wanted nothing more than blend in. I didn’t look like all the Lilly Pulitzer’s wearing lacrosse playing Mattie’s and Skylar’s of my high school. Sure, you could put both of us in the same gym uniform of Sophie’s and school t-shirt but we unquestionably weren’t going to get the same reaction from the administration.
SN: I like to think I’m responsible for the ban of soffee shorts of 2011 at Northview High. I take pride in knowing that my ass lead to the substitute for longer and uglier basketball shorts.
In those moments, often brief and uneasy, my shape brought about disgust from guys my age and disturbing admiration from older men that no one should endure. All the new attention to my body made me more self conscious and it manifested many insecurities I had no business having at 15. I took the stares and inappropriate comments of others as facts rather than short sighted opinions. I held on to them and made them my own.
Oh, maybe I do need lose a bit of weight… Should I really wear that dress? Nah, my legs are too pudgy for it.
Of course, I passed each insecurity as a stage. My alternative emo look turned into a clever t-shirt phase which turned into faux feminist “no shorts” phase. I’d be lying if I said I can now completely ignore people’s lingering stares. My mind immediately goes to times I was ridiculed by my classmates or gawked at by super creepy adults. But people will either love you for loving yourself or hate you for doing so. It’s impossible to constantly feed into the newest fads for ‘bigger this’ and ‘smaller that’. Beauty and body standards of society are fickle. Those that I followed always left me feeling bad or feeling hungry but never better about me. I was the only one who could look at me and love or change what I see. Okay, I got a little fat. But who told you I don’t like it like that?
I’m a self proclaimed realist. I’ve created an image and life for myself in which I can give a graceful yet realistic take to almost anything. Of course, people rarely asked for my particularly harsh outlook on anything. It’s not exactly what anyone wants to hear when dealing with a difficult situation. But the line between realism and cynicism is extremely thin and paved with a few less-than pleasant encounters. One can easily slip into constant thoughts of misfortune and impending doom. And soon a mentality that was developed to help navigate in a sensible and logical manner can sour to expecting the worst from everything and everyone. It can seep into every part of oneself, only to be excreted out in shady comments, unexpressive stares, and an altogether unimpressed attitude.
Of course, I never noticed how toxic my energy became. I could hear the little comments and digs friends would make when I lend my particular style of truth but it wasn’t until I saw how my negative mindset began to manifest in my life. It wasn’t just advice that I was giving but the advice I gave to myself. I may have been real with others but I had been cruel to myself. From talking myself out of taking chances with jobs, school, friends, and relationships, I “cock-blocked” myself in every possible space and form. When I did allow positive things into my life, it took very little for me to “realistically” usher them out, allowing myself to believe that they would leave anyway. It wasn’t until I saw how nothing seemed to be going my way. Relationships seemed to dwindle and I found myself spending more time alone with my cynical thoughts.
I’d always heard statements like ‘Just be happy.” but I didn’t think it could be a choice. The greatest gift I have given myself in the last few weeks is creating my own joy. With the help of a journal, some patient friends, and one of my favorite new platforms, The JOYday Movement, I have begun to reclaim my positive energy. Positive energy is addicting and attractive. It brings people from all backgrounds into a space because they can sense the peace and joy that is in a person’s life. It’s hard to get out of the negative mind set but The JOYday Movement has been such a monumental space for me to rediscover my joy.
Aimed at helping people, especially of color, to really dissect mental health issues, the JOYday Movement creates safe space for people to share their stories and find their JOY throughout their journey. Their belief that choosing joy is choosing to know that no matter what may happen life, it will be okay has helped me to be able to project the kind of joy that I wish to put back into my life.
We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves
A week is honestly too long. It’s seven whole days, which equals 168 hours or 10,800 minutes. It’s exhausting. I was quite used to finding myself so worn out by Friday that I would choose to spend my weekends locked away, trying to regain the energy that had been sucked out during the week. And then I would turn right back around and have to do it all again Monday. It made me miserable and even more annoyed when Sunday came around.
One day, while sitting with my dad, I mentioned being over the week before it even started. He asked me how I spent my special day, Thursday. I simply stated that I tried to power through them so I could really deal with the expectations of Friday. He laughed and asked me why was I always in a rush.
“You will always get to Friday Maame, but why put that much pressure on it?”
I knew that I was mentally and physically exhausted by the end of the week and that needed to change. So I came up with Thursday’s are for Yaa’s. Every Thursday is set aside as a personal day. Thursday’s are the days I do exactly what I want, no matter that obligations. It sounds extremely risky but it’s beautiful to have one day that I get to control to the best of my abilities. Depending on the way I feel, the activities may vary but in an ideal world, this is how my Thursday would look.
I wake up in my pure white sheets whatever time I see fit, usually before 10:30AM. I sit and contemplate whether I would like to be around people. If yes, I try set up an activity that I really enjoy, like enjoying a meal with good friends. That makes the experience that less stressful. I find myself a meal for breakfast that I haven’t enjoyed in a very long time and I eat in my beautiful bed before jumping into the shower or taking another nap. My Thursday can be used as a ‘Get it Right Get it Right’ day or to just veggie out in front of my TV or laptop and write about my feelings. But the day is mostly about me. I pour into myself so much of what is stripped out of me during the week. All the early wake up calls, long nights, and disappointments of the week don’t matter because Thursday’s are for me.
I tried to write this for Thursday but my day told me take a break and rebuild from brokenness that I had suffered during the week. Nothing hurts and everything is beautiful on my Thursday’s.