I wouldn't be surprised in the least if some of y'all read the title to this and already got a little triggered (check out "Gaslighting, Love Bombing & 5 Other Triggers To Call Out In Your Relationships", if that is indeed the case). Out of all of the past relationship (and situationship) mistakes (or conscious redundant choices) that I've made—and trust me, there have been many—I would have to say that being so unaware of my worth, that I kept trying to prove my value, is right up there in the top three.
What changed me? I won't lie. Spending some time being single (and abstinent) definitely played a huge role. Sometimes, when you're always dealing with some dude, you can find yourself so caught up in their wants and needs that you find yourself tossing yours to the side. Another thing that helped was really letting the definition of the word "prove" sink into my soul and spirit. One is "to establish the truth or genuineness of, as by evidence or argument". Another is "to subject to a test, experiment, comparison, analysis, or the like, to determine quality, amount, acceptability, characteristics, etc.". While I do truly believe that there is something to be said for taking the time to "establish the truth and genuineness" and "test" someone's character, in a healthy dynamic, no one should be out here trying to prove their worth.
You being God's child, you being a woman, you being truly one of a kind and someone who can bring something to this world in a way that no one else ever has or ever will all play a role in you being of extreme value—with absolutely nothing to prove. It's a given. Please let that sink in.
Good men know this. But some guys out here, oftentimes because they don't love themselves enough, they look for women who act like they don't have a clue about what I just said. As a result, they will take advantage of the ignorance. That's why I'm totally down with quotes like, "Know your worth. Know the difference between what you're getting and what you deserve" (Unknown) and "Love yourself so much that when someone treats you wrong, you recognize it" (Rena Rose). They are reminders that while it isn't cool that some people don't treat others with the honor and respect that they should, that's karma's business. What we need to focus on is lifting our mind, body and spirit up enough that folks like that can't reach us even if they tried.
A great starting point is to check out the following six signs; ones that can help you to see if you've got a little more self-esteem work to do in this area when it comes to how you're (currently) rolling with the man in your life.
1. You’re Trying to Convince Him of What He Should Be Striving to Confirm
I've said in other articles that, upon a significant amount of self-reflection (and journaling), when it comes to most of the men that I've been with, there is a one-liner they each left behind that I still apply to my life to this day. When it comes to my fourth "baby daddy", something he once said that truly resonated was, "Shellie, your problem is that you treat compliments like they're revelations when they should actually be confirmations." Indeed…indeed. It took me YEARS (that is capitalized on purpose because I can't emphasize this point enough) before I realized—and then accepted—that a healthy relationship consists of two people who really and truly see each other. Once they do, it becomes natural for both parties to support their partner through their weaknesses while affirming and even celebrating their strengths. If you're with someone who you're doing both of these things for, but you feel as if you're constantly going out of your way to try and get them to do the same for you, that's low-key toxic.
When you're with your right man, you're not gonna have to try and make him take notice of your beauty, your accomplishments or your overall value. Matter of fact, he will oftentimes notice some bomb things about you that you never really thought about before. Why? Because he feels so blessed to have you in his life that he wants to praise your Creator and His creation as much as possible. He won't have to force it either; it will come naturally to him.
If all of what I just said sounds unrealistic or totally unrelatable, you already have the confirmation you need that you are with someone who doesn't see your worth. In my opinion that also means he doesn't really deserve you either; at least, not right now. But that's just me.
2. The More You Do, the Less He Does
I don't know what it is about a lot of us—and by us, I don't mean "women"; I mean, the human race—that makes us want to go above and beyond for people who tend to not do the same for us in return. It's like there is something within our very being that thinks if we give or love enough, it will miraculously make someone want to be all that we need. The real truth? It's a harsh reality so brace yourself. The truth is if they truly cared about us, it would actually bother them if we were doing more work than they were in the relationship. I know women who always pay for dates, who always come out of pocket to spend time with their men (especially if it's a long-distance relationship) and who even spend money they don't have to pay their man's bills, all the while justifying their actions as "loving someone", when really all they are doing is being used. I mean, who wouldn't turn down a free dinner and a movie, sex on the weekends when they don't have to come out of pocket, or assistance from a person who is willing to help out with their cell phone and cable expenses? Don't mistake someone taking what you're offering for someone truly caring about you as a person. The two are very different.
Money isn't everything. I am a firm believer of that. But if you are the only one putting forth the resources to make a relationship work or last, that's a really high price to pay. Whether you realize it or not, what you're saying is you're not worth someone using their own time, effort, energy and ends in order to spend time with you and get to know you better. You are actually paying someone to be with you. That doesn't prove your worth. That only proves that you're being totally taken for granted (ouch). Oh, and that you're allowing it to happen (bigger ouch).
3. You Find Yourself Compromising Morals, Standards and Principles to Keep Him
If you want to wait until marriage to have sex, you should. If you want to date in order to be courted (you can read more about the differences between the two here), you should. If you want to be with someone who is academically, professionally or financially "on your level", you should. These are just three examples off the top of my head, but I'm pretty sure you can tell where I am going with this. One of the reasons why it's so important to embrace a season of singleness before getting into anything "deep" with someone is so you can get clear about who you are and what you want—not just in a relationship but out of life, in general (check out "10 Words That'll Make You Totally Rethink The Word 'Single'" and "10 Bona Fide Benefits Of Being Single"). That way, it will be so much easier to spot who will be a good complement for you and your world.
If you don't make doing this a priority, well…let's just say that there are a lot of men and women out here who, since they have no clue who they are and what they truly desire (let alone what they truly deserve), find themselves doing whatever someone else wants in order to keep that person happy; even if that requires them compromising the core of who they are to the point of suffering or even degrading themselves. Nothing about that is healthy, right or beneficial. Absolutely nothing.
4. You Tend to Focus More on What He Brings to Your Life Than What You Bring to His
There is a consistent theme that transpires, whenever I try to get someone to see that they are in a relationship that is toxic or, at least one that is causing them to settle (which, if they stick around long enough, it tends to become one and the same). Whenever I ask them what's good about their dynamic, they go on and on about all of what the individual they are so caught up in brings into their life. Once I listen to them provide about 10 things, I typically interrupt and ask, "So, how do you benefit theirs?" When I tell you that oftentimes they are completely stumped, it's almost tragic. It's like they are sooooo grateful to be with somebody that they haven't even taken out the time to process that the feeling should be 100 percent mutual. This should so much be the case that they should be able to immediately rattle off a dozen ways they are a blessing because the person they are with makes sure that they know it.
Be careful, sis. If you are only focused on how some guy is making you feel or adding to your life that you don't notice what you're doing for him (or you can't recall him bringing how you bless him to your attention), you could find yourself feeling so indebted that you'll tolerate all kinds of BS. And if he's not worthy of you, he'll let you do it.
5. It’s Been For-e-ver Yet It Seems Like Nothing’s Happening
Several months back, I wrote an article about how long a couple should date before getting married (if marriage is what they ultimately desire to do). According to the experts, it should be no longer than around two years or so. While this conclusion may not be an exact "science" (after all, every couple is different), what shouldn't be up for debate is the undeniable fact that stagnation is a sign of true dysfunction in a relationship. You know what else is? Being the only one who is putting forth the effort to move a relationship forward. Humans are designed to live progressively, in every area of their life. That's why, if you are with someone who is beyond comfortable—to the point of pretty much being complacent—with things not really going anywhere while you keep trying to persuade them that they should, this is another telling sign that you are striving to prove your worth.
I know a lot of different men who have all sorts of goals and aspirations. One thing that every single one has in common is, what they want, they are willing to work their asses off to get and to keep. I'm not sharing this so that you'll play mind games and heart trips on a brotha. I'm saying this to simply remind you that when a man sees value in something or someone, when he truly wants it or them to be a part of his life, he's going to figure out how to make it happen. If he's not doing much at all, well, you know what they say—"Indecision is decision."
6. You Are Liking (and Loving) Yourself Less and Less
Let's end here. A very telling—and extremely underrated—way to know if you're in a good thing with someone else is how you feel about yourself while you're in the relationship. Push past the butterflies you might experience whenever you're with them or even how good the sex may be. Instead, focus on your entire sense of being. Does that person make you feel more capable and confident? Have you found yourself taking more life chances and risks? Have you accomplished more as an individual? Are you emotionally maturing and spiritually evolving? Also, can you honestly say that if the relationship ended today, while it might hurt, you know that all of the growth that has transpired will remain because the experience has made you a better person overall? If you can nod your head "yes", I say "kudos" and "bravo" to you.
But if you actually feel like you've lost a sense of who you are, that you are unhappy—or at least, uncomfortable—more than you are delighted and at peace, but you keep talking yourself into staying anyway, I have to ask you if you are not only trying to prove your worth to ole' boy, but to yourself too.
I don't care if it's a man, a friendship or even a job—if it's good for you, it's going to make you feel good about you. If that's not what's going on, what you're in is way too expensive because it is costing you way too much. Let it go, sis. Let it go…so that you can spend time discovering what you deserve…so that next time, you won't put yourself in the position of having to prove a damn thing.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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