I Woke Up Like This #50: On Being Yourself
We don't listen to each other deeply enough. Especially in the case of black women in activism spaces. Anyone with a brain can see this but it takes some real practice to sit down and earnestly have conversations with people whose opinion really differs from your own. It takes time to understand how someone perceives the world differently than you and accept that more than one way to exist...exists. It's hard to agree to disagree and put ourselves in others shoes.
But we can be so much better with practice. We can listen more. Empathize more. To and with people like this woman, who so desperately wanted to participate in this to model her beautiful, black, fat body. So others like her don't feel so alone, or unloved. She wants everyone to understand that bodies like hers exist, and they're more than okay. Exactly how they are. She also pushes this all encompassing respect for our mind. And it's freedom to feel. You see this in her parenting in detail. Her children are emotionally nurtured, as well as fed and housed. And sometimes, that's a rare occurrence.
It was her feminism that really drew me in, though. Her experiences were so infuriating, and diminishing. At times. Her determination beats out any of that. Her willingness to be heard isn't silenced to far. She knows who she is and she isn't sorry. And I love that.
It was a pleasure to meet and discuss all that we did. Enjoy her session, learn a thing or two about your white privilege, and open your mind to the viewpoints of those who differ from you. That's the only way we can make change happen.
How would you rate your self esteem from 1-10?
Probably about a 7.
Turning thirty really launched me into this self confidence. Like, "I don't give a fuck!" I just don't care. I’m trying to get to a better place with my health. But you know, obviously we all have insecurities. I feel like our insecurities hold us back sometimes. I still have some things going on, but at the same time I’m like Hey! You know. I’m trying to feel good, I sorta feel good. I’m trying to feel better.
What made you want to participate?
I feel as though there aren't very many women portrayed who look like me. It’s so funny, I was thinking in the shower earlier...I was ten years old when I was watching an old episode of Oprah. There was a model on, and the photographer came right when the model woke up. She was the stereotypical model. Beautiful, skinny, blonde. I remember laying there watching this. And then...I started pretending to be the model. I was like, “Oh! Take pictures of me!” and I was just a little kid. It was a little dumb but when you grow up without seeing representation of your own body or skin or hair; it’s disheartening to see this. So, I want to be that person for someone who is black and full figured. Natural hair, piercings, tattoos. If they see someone like me, maybe they will find their confidence as well. And I am a Mother. Moms are not stereotypically supposed to take nude photographs. You know what I mean?! It’s about still keeping yourself and who you are separate from Motherhood. I’m a Mother but I’m still a person.
Are you nervous?
Yes and no. I’m not gonna lie and say I haven’t gone back and forth. But let’s just do it! Conquering fears is a part of me; especially with chronic anxiety.
How do you feel after the shoot?
That was fun! Still nervous. Especially about the frontal shots. Because that’s just my insecurity.
How would you rate your self esteem?
I don't know! With all this caffeine about an eight now!
Tell me what good self esteem means to you?
Good self esteem means honoring your body for what it’s been through and what it is going to go through. For it’s past, present, and it’s future.
What does bad self esteem look like to you?
Dreary, they have sadness in their eyes.
Like their giving up?
Have you ever dealt with negative self talk or other means of body shaming?
Absolutely! I am hard on myself as a mother. I’m hard on myself about my health. But you know those changes we go through...I try not to hush those voices. I try to learn from those voices of critique and force myself forward as a better person.
How do you model self esteem for your kids?
By helping others. I tell them it is so important to help other people and also take care of yourself. Intellectually taking care of yourself. Your mind is the most important part of you. You need to read, listen to music, and really listen to your emotions.
What has the biggest struggle with parenting been for you?
There are a lot. It’s a lot of push and pull. On one hand, I want to give my kids freedom. I’m all about that. But then again, it’s also about being safe. My youngest daughter is nine and she is well on her way to being a young women. She has already been bullied in the past. We keep moving forward by teaching her what we feel are the right things to do.
What advice can you give parents whose children are being bullied?
I am definitely far from what people think are the perfect parent. We are constantly having talks with our daughter. We keep a very open case of communication with her from day one. That’s one of our things as parents. We don’t ever want to feel like our kids can’t speak to us about whats going on. Or their feelings. Or even as what we are doing wrong as parents. We don’t like to make our kids feel little, or that they have no voice in their home.
A lot of parents take on a military like approach to raising kids and you don’t find it very often where a parent will allow their child to critique their parenting. How do you feel about families like this?
Every family is so different. Brian and I are a biracial family. Our oldest is black, white, jewish, and she speaks fluent Spanish. She’s a dancer, she loves art, painting, reading. All these things. I don’t ever want to feel like I am defining who she is. We want our kids to find themselves. Brian went to art school, I went to fashion school, so we’re definitely unique when it comes to families.
How do you feel your parenting benefits your children? Compared to the average parenting we see today?
I feel like they will get more confidence. When I was younger my parents were very, “I’m the parent. You’re the kid. That’s it.” Well, yes, when it comes to the safety of our children we are very different. But...they are their own people.
I think it’s refreshing to meet a parent like you. Who respects the feelings of their child so much that you give them the power to vocalize their emotions rather than compact them for the sake of respecting authority.
Yeah. You know. We’re just open. We want our children to feel open enough to express themselves and that’s it. We may get irritated with the answers. I can be the mean Mommy sometimes. I get the casual door slams or stomping up the stairs. We even tell them, "I’m not your friend; I am your parent." But at the same time I want them to know that they can come me. My daughter told me, “You know, you’re the diary I never write in. Because I can tell you everything”. So, so far; our parenting has been working for us.
What was your childhood like?
My parents tried. Financially. Emotionally? Not there at all. And that’s one reason that Brian and I are definitely there emotionally for our children. It’s definitely as important as putting a roof over their head.
What do you mean by your parents were not emotionally present?
My Dad, being a black man who grew up in the 60s and 70s seeing all these racial changes..it hardened him. My Mother is biracial and moved from the south to California. She has definitely been through a lot. I feel like she has had some traumas she has never dealt with. My parents together? They just didn’t...get me. I was a slacker, I was into the arts. My dad was really into me going to USC and being into academics. And that just wasn't me. Especially when you don’t get the help you need to go to a university.
What do you mean by that?
My dad is from Detroit. He was raised around people who just weren’t good. My Mom worked at USC for 23 years. USC would pay for the tuition. But my parents never knew about PSATS or act prep. I grew up in the suburbs. I was a black woman who listened to Papa Roach and Taking Back Sunday. I just didn’t have the tools. So, my Dad just really did not get it. I don’t hold it againsts them at all. I went through my angst, and I was angry. But I don’t have time anymore. I’m married, I have kids, I have to change diapers. I’ve moved past it. So now, my Mother has a guilty conscious about our upbringing.
Tell me more about your Mother.
My Mom, she’s crazy. Everyone says that. But now we get along great. We’ve definitely had our times for sure but now we’re fine. She loves the kids, she loves Brian. She wasn’t happy about us moving to Chicago, though.
What is something you’ve noticed about Chicago culture that is different from Anaheim?
I definitely feel the people are not as laid back. Like, is it the weather?! Maybe it’s just all the vitamin D in California but people are definitely not as laid back here. For sure.
What brought to Chicago?
What was middle school like for you?
Horrible! Who loved middle school?! I don’t think anyone liked middle school. It was fucking terrible. I was a new student. We moved to a new town. I went to an out of district middle school, then a high school within. So I didn’t know anyone. Again, I’ve been the awkward black girl my whole life.
What were some defining moments with school?
In high school I was busted for weed. I had under a dime sack of weed on me. A girl who was my friend slipped a note to the principal about my marijuana. And they searched me. Found it. I had to go to court, probation for six months. Drug classes. At sixteen. Did the whole pee in a cup thing in front of a stranger. A little embarrassing for a sixteen year old on her period. My parents were pissed.
And now it’s just a slap on the wrist?
Are you a feminist?
What does being a feminist mean to you?
Being a feminist means, well, the text book definition is equality of the sexes. But also, I am a Black Feminist. Which is different. I’m also an educated, fat, AND black, feminist. I’m intersectional. It’s true. We always hear that word. So, it's true.
Why does this moment stick with you?
It’s a constant. It’s a constant of black women explaining their world. It’s a constant, ”We’re hurt, we’re struggling”. But non-women of color want to tell us, "We’re all women!" and "We are all in this together." Erica Heart, she will always say, “What are here for? Who are you here for? Who is this for?”
How frequently do you find yourself being spoken over in feminist spaces?
All the time! You know, I will bring up topics of differing opinions. It’s a constant battle of them telling me, ”Well, we need to stick together as women.” But I’m also black. I’m also a mother. I’m also fat. I’m all these other things as well. So, I don’t feel like it’s acceptable to talk about race and gender openly for myself just yet.
What empowers you as a black woman?
Seeing our past, seeing where we’ve come from. My parents, at the age of ten, that’s when they had the talk with me. They made me sit and watch Mississippi Burning. It may not have been the most age appropriate, but it definitely got their point across.
What were your parents trying to teach you with this movie and the talk?
That racism still exists. That you’re going to have to work harder. And hold your head up longer. And you won’t be coddled. And all these things about being a black woman growing up today and in the nineties.
What is your advice to white feminists who are trying to be more intersectional?
Keep listening. It’s okay, you know. The problem is when it comes to differences, they’re always seen as being negative. There is nothing wrong with me growing up differently from you. It’s okay. But for some reason, it’s always perceived as bad.
To mention intersectionalism?
What is the biggest problem with feminism today?
Racism. I went to the Women's March with my daughter. It was not my first protest so I took her with me. She held up a sign that said,”We may be tiny but we’re strong” and I took a sign that had a picture of a black woman side profile with an Audrey Lorde quote. It also said, "Black Womens' Lives Matter." We were at the train going up to LA when an older white woman walked up to me. She said, ”Show me your sign.” So, I showed it. And she looked at me with the mosts bewildered look on her face. And walked away. She just walked away...
What keeps people from reaching a point of understanding most times?
Everyone has a different story. Nobody will ever be able to fully grasp another persons story. I get that. That is fine. But! It is all about learning. Growing. We have arguments online because it’s so hard to have a real conversation in person. Trust me. It wasn’t easy for my parents to have that talk with me about race. Just like it was hard for me to have the talk about guns in school with my daughter. If you don’t talk about issues, how do you expect change to happen?
I think there are so many things white feminists don’t see because they don’t see it.
But stand behind the people who are constantly talking about their struggles. Like, “I may not get it but I support you.” It’s just that simple.
Have you ever struggled with your mental health?
Yes. After I had my first daughter, I was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression. I was thrown on Zoloft, 100mg. It was brutal. I had no idea what was happening. I was young when I had my daughter, so not a lot of my friends had kids. My husband and I had no idea what shit we stepped into. Mothers couldn’t talk about postpartum depression ten years ago but today you can. That’s one thing I love about our generation. The open communication. It’s astounding.
What was the hardest part of your PPD?
The isolation. When we had our daughter we lived in a 400 square foot apartment in Long Beach. When she was six months old we got a house in Anaheim. I didn't have any friends. I became agoraphobic. I didn’t drive. I didn’t leave my house. I’d only go to the local mall and the park; that was it.
It was lonely. I had no idea that Mothers were so lonely. We had an emergency c section. It was Obamas Inauguration and I was in surgery. I didn’t see her for three hours. Eventually, after a year, I got out of it. For five years after, I researched how to prepare for my cesarean sectioned body for my other daughter’s birth. It was a success!
What words can you leave those reading with?
Being true to yourself has got to be one of the hardest parts of growing up in this era but it is also the most enlightening. I still have growing to do, I still have some loving myself to do. I still have a lifetime of learning to do. We all do. Some days we will push ourselves to do better than the next but some days we won't even get out of bed. And that's okay. Tell yourself you're okay. Everything will be okay.