Over the weekend Beyonce posted the note you see above on her Tumblr page and immediately her Beyhive started swarming. Without realizing or even considering that this may not even be a direct quote from Baby Blue’s momma, folks were in a hizzy over the first sentence. The idea that Beyonce would think, never mind write, that she was ugly had folks scratching their head, hypothesizing all kinds of scenarios. Most bloggers thought this letter was maybe a hint about her next CD. But then there were a couple of
haters heads who thought that Beyonce, publicly declaring that she was ugly in a letter to herself must be a sign that she’s suffering from postpartum depression. Not to diminish the seriousness of postpartum depression because it is a very real experience that leaves many new mothers exhausted and extremely depressed, but why couldn’t Bey’s statement be something more positive, perhaps something beautifully edifying?
The “open letter to herself” is in fact a quote from the now deceased author and journalist David Grayson. The quote in its entirety is as follows:
“The sense of wishing to be known only for what one really is is like putting on an old, easy, comfortable garment. You are no longer afraid of anybody or anything. You say to yourself, ‘Here I am — just so ugly, dull, poor, beautiful, rich, interesting, amusing, ridiculous — take me or leave me.’ And how absolutely beautiful it is to be doing only what lies within your own capabilities and is part of your own nature. It is like a great burden rolled off a man’s back when he comes to want to appear nothing that he is not, to take out of life only what is truly his own.” ― David Grayson
I was struck by this note, but mostly by the reaction to the note because in honestly acknowledging my feelings about myself, on a pretty consistent basis, I have to admit I usually wake-up feeling so damn pretty, but there are those days when I look in the mirror and I feel ugly. I can feel like I’m on some America’s Next Top Model ish and then sometimes I want to roll myself up inside my duvet and hide. I have that ever beleaguered muffin top, which is a cute way to say I have belly fat. My once taut ass is now not so taut and the stretch marks are there to prove it. I was born with dark circles under my eyes and no matter how much sleep I get and how much MAC concealer I use they are still visible making me look even more tired than I usually am. And depending on the day and my mood, these things can get to me, making me feel unattractive and ugly. The irony of all of this of course is that I’d love to have a body and most certainly a booty like Beyonce. The challenge for me (and probably Bey too) is to not internalize these feelings, but to accept them as the whole of who we are. An evolving body made up of opposing feelings. I applaud the “bootylicious” creator for putting it out there for the world to read and assume that she penned these words herself.
My body, my face and my notions of beauty are constantly under siege through media, pop culture, men and other Black women. I have to find ways to check myself and keep my beautiful, ugly, juicy, curvy, awkward, fat, flabby, bangin’ body resistive to outside, simplistic, commodified notions of beauty. So I photograph myself in the nude. I touch myself. I study my curves and my stretch marks. My homegrrrls and I have no problem discussing our bodies. It’s such a release to be like do you see the friggin cellulite on my thighs or to joke if anyone has seen my muscle tone lately. I’m getting older. My body is changing. I have to now work to keep it tight, shapely and healthy. For a time even that work became a little too all-consuming, but then I saw Mickalene Thomas’s “Origin of the Universe.”
“Origin,” which opened in September at Brooklyn Museum features mural sized paintings mostly of Black women. There’s this one of this woman, her skin is rich like a melting Hershey’s chocolate bar and as she lays on the couch naked her round stomach is front and center, the stretch marks on her thigh are visible and the darkening of her left knee punctuates a body that is flawed and it’s all absolutely glorious! The sequins on her lips also accentuate her full breasts. She lies there so comfortably and free because she’s okay with herself—flaws and all. I was awed. It was the most beautiful work in the entire museum!
I embraced my flaws, but for so long I tried to cover and hide them within that embrace. It was like wearing a scarf on a bad hair day. But Mickalene’s work (and you have to also check her series of Polaroids called “Courbet”) made me feel so okay with letting it all hang out. Shoot sometimes I even leave my Spanx folded right there in their drawer. As a woman so much of how I understood/ understand myself has been through my relationship to my body. I may be able to conceal the dark circles and the blemishes, but my booty, my hips, my breasts are pretty much what you see is what you get. True there are squats and lunges and there are booty injections and breasts implants, but even if I did make those types of surgical augmentations, I would still have to define myself just through my altered body. As a Black woman these definitions and characterizations settle even deeper into old and new wounds of stereotype and marginalization. I understand this. And I love myself, my booty, my breasts, my lips, my arms and even my muffin-top in light of and despite this understanding. Scribbled in bright orange by Beyonce, the best line of David Grayson’s quote is also the resonating crux within Mickalene’s vibrant, sequined Black bodies and is also now the best part of my philosophy about myself: “TAKE ME OR LEAVE ME.”