My mother tells me I had the biggest and most infectious smile on the playground growing up. It was more like The Cheshire Cat engulf the lower half of my face but in her defense that smile was almost a double-sided mirror. A true reminder that her daughter had inherited a piece of her. As I grew older I wore that crooked smile like an academy award winning actress, the type of smirk that never seems to fade even after curtains close. The world was my stage to dance, sing, and play. The way I looked was always worthy enough for photos with that gapped tooth smile always stealing the show. That was back when we were kids playing make believe, dressing up and seeing things no one else could. Seems like the older I got the further my grin was from wonderland.
High school was my first proper taste of drinking the European beauty standard Kool-Aid. I was the sole black female dancing on a competitive team with girls who carried blonde hair that spilled behind their backs, while my kinky afro barley hovered over my shoulders after a chemical relaxer. The costumes clung to my ever-growing hips and bust making me feel like a showgirl whereas most of my teammates filled out every inch of the fabric with long slender bodies. From my view, they were basically little perfect ballerinas. They all flashed perfect politician smiles or the multi-thousand-dollar metal grills that would soon get them there, and I was the girl with a gap in the middle of my mouth. As our team prepared for a performance we all put on our “nude” tights and lip colors that were more suited for the fair skinned variety. I stood out before I even moved an inch, that feeling of being the outsider would make anyone self-conscious.
As the Instagram obsession began in my late teen years I found myself looking through someone else version of who I was and how that defined my worth. Needing to post photos at the right time of the day companied by the wittiest caption and best edit approved by my closest friends. I felt this pressure to publically prove my importance through these images, obsessing over becoming as close to the newest waves and trends as possible. It’s funny because everyone around me was working extremely hard to keep up while simultaneously making it all look effortless and natural. It’s that lie behind the image that’s really damaging because it’s so easy to take someone’s life highlights with all the bells and whistles digital editing can provide, and compare that to your day to day experiences.
Around this time, I also started to notice the glorification of models, Instagram baddies, and YouTubers alike. Amazing accounts full of aesthetically pleasing themes and photos of tropical vacations were just about every third photo I came across and it seemed every girl my age had someone they idolized online. Theses influencers advertising skinny me detox teas and waist trainers sold the lie that there is something about you needing immediate change, but if you buy my product you can look like me and have this amazing fabricated life. People really ate that shit up and everything from hair gummy vitamins to teeth whitening kits lined my daily feed.
Gears shifted over time and American pop culture seemed to see value in its darker skinned citizens style, customs, and music. No more thigh gaps body goals for my peers, but thicc (yes with 2 c’s) and curvy with a snatched waistline had them foaming at the mouth. Big lips, arched brows, and lash extensions was the new standard of beauty. It’s funny because the body type that I spent so many years wishing was something else was now the topic of envy for others. This is when a light bulb went off for me. I realized that I only believed there were issues with my body when outside influences told me these things needed to be changed. I couldn’t stomach the fact that I was now hearing friends joke about how they have no ass and need to get thick for summer. In their mind that was the version of their best self, all jokes aside they truly felt insecure. I was in a position where I was the standard but it wasn’t this magical glamorous moment for me. I didn’t go on luxury dates in Hawaii with my movie star boyfriend or get invited to be Drake’s newest video vixen. It was then that I realized I was beautiful before this Instagram baddie trend deemed me important and I had the power to choose to see that after this wave dies down and something else steals its thunder. Our media preys on insecurities and we feed into the lies, sometimes governing each other while adding fuel to this fire. It’s a cycle that continues even after you put the phone down. I wondered what else about myself did I label as unworthy that was actually a blessing. I began change the narrative around my body and it was the tool that put the power back in my hands.
I realized my legs were amazing because for the last twenty-one years they have taken me every place I had ever been. They had bared scars, scraps, and bruises, but even after all the verbal abuse they never gave out on me. How could I not love them? My arms have been a strong foundation for warm embraces with loved ones. They connect me with people when words just aren’t enough and have made others feel safe, I am so grateful for that gift. My teeth allow me to belt out the most empowering Beyoncé lyrics filling my car, give me the chance to use my voice uplift the people around me, and assist with my favorite activity… EATTING! My body has put up with a lot of bullshit from outside critics and internal keepers alike and I find it amazing that after all this time she still puts on her work boots and shows up for me. This vessel is your holy temple that is brilliant in architecture, exceeds functional expectations, and wonderfully resilient. I spent too many years forgetting I am magic. The world is still my dance floor and I have mastered the art of seeing the unseen. When society can’t see the value in your uniqueness, remember the wonderland inside of you. These days I think I’ve got that Cheshire cat beat with my grin that spreads ear to ear. Gap and all.