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The Problem With Placing People On Pedestals

It's beautiful for us to want love for others and ourselves but rarely do we know exactly what we are asking for.

Her Voice

If you've been following pop culture lately, you are aware of rapper Saweetie and Quavo's breakup and more recently, self-proclaimed relationship expert Derrick Jaxn being accused of (and later admitting to) cheating on his wife. While neither of these situations are mine or anyone else's business, I think it's important to note a teachable lesson when one arises. I'll start with my own story.

A few years ago, I penned an article urging people to stop making others their relationship goals. I included myself in the mix as I was newly married and cringed every time someone commented, #goals under my pictures. It wasn't that I thought people shouldn't aspire to marriage or getting to be married to their best friend, it was that I was aware that like any marriage, mine was not perfect and the people commenting were virtually strangers to the ins and outs of our relationship.

Similar to how people see a woman like Saweetie being gifted with expensive bags, cars and trips, and immediately become envious, or begin wishing they had her relationship. The truth is, what we see on Instagram or in the media is not necessarily the truth. Not the whole truth anyway.

We are viewing clips, sometimes carefully orchestrated, edited and Facetuned highlight reels into someone else's life. We rarely see the lows, the depression, the bad days. We don't see the infidelity, the abuse, and don't always hear the horror stories.

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Instead, we place people on pedestals. The danger in doing that, in marking relationships as your goals, is that you have no idea what is taking place in that relationship. Do you want a man who is outwardly affectionate but physically, mentally, emotionally or sexually abusive in private? Are you looking for someone who buys you everything your heart desires but cheats on you and exposes you to diseases or brings home an outside baby? Do you aspire to have a man who looks good on your arm but treats you like dirt and puts you down every chance he gets?

Of course, we all want a happy ending. We want a couple to look up to and say, "See, they made it, we can too." We want to root for love, for black love. We want to see a woman truly loved and adored by her man because then we know it's possible for us too. We want the fairy tale, we want to know that the love story between Darius and Nina kept going, we want to know that true love exists. So we look for it in others. We root for the beautiful couples in the spotlight and ask what were their prayers. How can I too find the man of my dreams?

It's beautiful for us to want this for others and ourselves but rarely do we know exactly what we are asking for.

I believe in the power of prayer and manifestation. I believe that we can truly speak things into existence and because of this, I try to be very careful with the things I say. While it's beautiful to want the man of your dreams, make sure that's what you are making your goals: the man of YOUR dreams, not someone else's. Before we get heartbroken again because you placed another celebrity couple on your endless goals list, how about we make some real goals? Write out a list of what you want in a man without comparing him to another man. Simply think of things you want and need in a partner, and in a relationship, and write it down.

Remember, no man, woman, or relationship is perfect. While it can be fun to root for celebrities and their love lives, may we always remember to never idolize any man, woman or relationship.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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