How My Mother Affirmed My Beauty As A Black Woman

A Tale Of Two Thighs

Her Voice

My thighs and I used to need couple's therapy.

My early high school days in South Korea (military brat) were spent looking woefully at my thighs reflected in the glass doors of the metro, comparing them to thin, milky legs to my right and left. Not to mention when I actually sat down and the fat spread out, filling in the negative space between. I used to wish my legs twirled around each other like the girls whose legs crossed easily and unsweatily at the knees (bonus points went to the girl whose ankle also wrapped around her calf).

My mom changed my perspective one day with a weird joke. While she was sorting through laundry on her bedroom floor, I gazed at my reflection in her floor length mirrors. Choosing to invite some relief into the disapproving thoughts swirling behind my eyes, I reached out for her sure affirmation. "Mom, do I look fat?" I asked. Without looking at me long, she said, "Yes, you look like a hippopotamus."

Shaken, my head whipped toward her so fast that my deprecating thoughts were abandoned altogether. My eyes were so wide and laid on her face in shock. Before I could gather my gaze into an appropriate scowl, the mischievous glint in her eye coupled with her sharp sense of humor shredded my moody disposition into ribbons of laughter until I was a pile of joyful tears on the floor. My mom took my episode as permission to send her own laughter scraping through her nose in a prolonged snort, joining me in tears. Any last attempts to bait any remorse from her were aborted, as I simply couldn't stop laughing. That day, my silly mom introduced a wonderful alternative to descending down a spiral of body hate:

Choosing to be happy.

I'll never forget the moment my mom's goofy, off-hand joke threw me from the center of my orbiting thoughts long enough to imagine what I looked like from her perspective. I tried to grasp how a 14-year-old who hadn't fully developed yet, who put on a cheerleading uniform every Friday night, looked to a woman who carried and pushed out five healthy children over the span of fifteen years. Not only did she bring us into the world, but she guided us safely to the other side of childhood. She was up with me in the early hours of the morning working on far-too-elaborate projects; she made me every meal that I ever turned my nose up to and pushed away; and she drove my five siblings to each of our after-school activities.

In the passenger's seat, it's really easy to find the time to ponder a healthy pair of thighs — or any body part — to death. Watching my mother, I first realized that perhaps bodies weren't meant to be pondered, compared, or forced into discriminatory denim, but rather, to function. To run, to swim, to perch a toddler on my hip. The time I spent obsessing over me, my mom spent thinking of others. She is beautiful, but the value she has added to herself over the years has more to do with how she has applied herself to life in a way that has multiplied grace, patience, courage, and so many other virtues.

Her outward beauty is so much more meaningful because it shines through the prism of those attributes.

I've since come to think that my body is beautiful, especially the way my legs are shaped. That probably has a lot to do with the way going to a predominantly Black school has renewed my standards of beauty, but that's another story. Even now that I admire the way I look, I still try to limit the extent to which I think of myself in a purely superficial context. Not that it's wrong, but body perception can flatten so easily when it's forced to carry the weight of a multifaceted person's self-worth. Self-esteem can't sustain itself on such a small part of our being.

This is not to say that I never put my body down, but my convictions hold me to a different standard. Since my mom laughed at my self-image angst, effectively telling me to lighten up, every time I've reduced myself to the sum of my cellulite, I've known that I was falling short of the joyful person I want to be. In the scheme of things that threaten my happiness, choosing to be kind to myself seems like such low hanging fruit.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

Featured image by Getty Images.

This article is in partnership with Xfinity.

Those who have experienced an HBCU homecoming understand the assignment. Students, alumni, and family of a Historically Black College and University gather to partake in the excitement of celebrating the heritage and culture of the school. It's a time of joy, honoring traditions, and for some, reflecting on the good ol' days. Homecoming weekends are spent eating well, laughing plenty, and enjoying the sights; and there is plenty to see! (Spoiler alert: Sleep is not on the syllabus.)

Keep reading... Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

Summer is coming to an end, and it's officially time to start the fall activities. And with the start of a new season comes new movies and shows. One, in particular, is the final season of Netflix's Dear White People, airing September 22. A great thing about this show is that it sparks healthy conversation. Past seasons have explored topics like double consciousness, sexuality, and the Me Too Movement, but it's done it in a way that still allows the show to feel relatable and fun.

Keep reading... Show less

Period pain. Lawd. Could there be something that is more annoying, especially since it happens every 28-30 days? Like, c'mon. If you've ever wondered about the science behind it all, basically, we need our uterus to contract, so that it can shed the lining that accumulated, just in case we conceived in between cycles. And so, what basically happens is, the prostaglandins levels in our system increase which trigger inflammation and also period pain, so that the blood is able to flow from our bodies.

Keep reading... Show less

One of my favorite things about the changing seasons are the new vibes and new energies that change welcomes with it. September represents a transition from the white sand beaches, bottomless brunches, and undeniable romantic vibes long nights, festivals, and impromptu road trips often thought of when we think about the summer. In its place comes romanticism in a different approach. Pumpkin spice anything, the excuse to cuddle up, and the leaves of the trees turning warm shades sparks joy in a different way as fall begins. Perhaps what I am most excited about though are the 2021 wellness trends that come with it.

Keep reading... Show less

A few days ago, I was having a conversation with some folks about songs that should've been official singles yet never were. One of the ones that I shared was Mariah Carey's "All Alone in Love" (a song that she wrote when she was only 15, by the way). To me, it's a perfect way to intro this piece because I have had enough personal experiences and counseled enough people to know that it is very possible to be in a relationship with someone — and still feel quite alone in it. Not because your partner doesn't love you. Not because they're up to some totally f'ed up shenanigans. It's just…even though you signed up for a true and lasting partnership, somehow you now feel some of the very words that define what being alone can feel like: unattended, detached, unassisted, semi-compassionless and perhaps even abandoned on some levels.

Keep reading... Show less
Exclusive Interviews

Exclusive: Lucky Daye Is Doing It For The Culture, From The Soul

Every so often, an artist comes along who seems to be a physical manifestation of all that we are.

Latest Posts