“I’m not the prettiest girl in the world, but I’m far from being the ugliest.” At 14 years old, my friend Amber said that while we were talking about boys and why they liked some girls over others. I am not sure if she even remembers saying that but it is a compilation of words that 19 years later still resonates. You will not be surprised to know that today Amber is an unbelievably successful and empowering woman who also takes time out to mentor and empower young women and girls in Philadelphia.
If you have not un-followed me on Instagram just yet, you would know that I was recently at the Mom 2.0 conference in Scottsdale, AZ. Dove and their Global Self Esteem Ambassador, Jess Weiner hosted an empowering self-esteem workshop for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Phoenix. Their mission is to develop and empower the next generation of women. If you know me, you know that I’m the friend that your partner hates that you talk to after a fight, you also know that once you get off the phone with me, you are going to feel 2 inches taller because I am going to give you all the strength to stand up for yourself. I serve tough love and it isn’t always easy to digest but I also make you feel confident in your stance and decisions. My best friend, Gracie who owes me millions in therapy sessions will attest to that.
When I realized that I was one of the few that made it into the workshop, I immediately began thinking, “What would I have wanted someone to tell me at 10, 12, 14 years old? What would have made me feel better? What would have given me hope that everything can change tomorrow?” and most importantly, how can I say that all without throwing an f-bomb. I went to my mother’s house and took a snap shot of my most hated school picture. I was 15 and in high school. My mother was yelling at me that morning because I didn’t want to wear my hair out, I wasn’t into make up yet and I didn’t want to tweeze my eyebrows. And for tangent purposes, how could she blame me for the eyebrows thing when she traumatized me by taking me to a Dominican hair salon in Washington Heights where the woman was eating rice and beans while waxing my eyebrows at 14 years old and burned me! Okay, back on track. I felt confident that picture day and walked out of my apartment with my shoulders back and head up high.
Years later my father’s prayers were answered and my tomboy phase was over. While I was still a cold hard Power Rangers and Ninja Turtle fan, I also became a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the diary of all 90s girls, Clueless. I saw the picture that I had taken 3 years prior on my mother’s dresser and begged her to take it down. My eyebrows! Dear God! My hair! My mother and grandmother remembered the day of that picture and pointed out how they fought with me. They also pointed out how they felt bad afterwards and talked about it because I felt confident. On that day, I felt beautiful. All that mattered was not what they thought about me or their comments and suggestions but what I felt and I felt f-ing great.
I decided I would take the picture of that girl, that 14 year old girl with the thick eyebrows and chubby face with me to the self esteem workshop. I asked the girls what they thought I looked like in high school. I then told them I was bullied a lot because of my appearance. I showed them the picture of me at some of their ages and they did just what I thought they were going to do, they laughed. I knew they would because at their age I wanted to know if things would always be the same. While I was confident with who and what I was, I wondered how I would be 20 years from then. I wondered if boys would ever like me because I didn’t have boobs at the time and for the sake of another tangent, when Johnny found out I had a secret crush on him, he came up to me and said, “I don’t like flat chested girls”, I didn’t (and still don’t) have a booty, I was conservative in what I wore but even with that, even with bullying, even with all the commentary at home, in school, in the street, in my dance school that I received over my appearance, I felt good about myself because I was confident and I wasn’t confident because I was the prettiest girl in the world, I was confident because I knew that I was far the from being ugliest both inside and out.
PS. And in case you are wondering what happened with Johnny, 6 years after him telling me that he didn’t like flat chested girls, I bumped into him at a nightclub in New York City. I can’t lie, I was fly. Johnny kept circling my area like a vulture. He finally, mustered up the courage to talk to me and this is how it went. “Hey! Do you remember me? You are beautiful. You have changed so much since high school. Can we get together some time? “ and then the just desserts, “Oh! Johnny, yes, of course I remember you. However, I don’t date short men who tear girls down just because they are not sporting a D-Cup. Thank you though, I’m flattered.” It is still one of the best nights of my life and my daughters favorite story to hear and share about their mom.