In Morgan Jenkins’ latest book, This Will Be My Undoing, there were 2 lines that I can’t stop thinking about:
"That white beauty was the ideal was never formally taught to me. I learned it through warnings and observations".
It made me think about how the lessons that govern our lives are rarely taught explicitly.
We don't sit in a classroom while a professor lists all the ways we have to deny, fix, or erase ourselves to meet a standard that was created without us in mind.
No, it doesn't quite happen like that.
Warnings and observations. That's how it happens.
Don't get too fat. Don't be too loud. Don't act too Black.
Or else there's a hefty price to pay.
These warnings are heavily reinforced with images and messages that seep into our minds like water through cracks in a roof. Sometimes in tiny drops, sometimes in big gushes.
I'm fascinated by how easily it happens, and how hard it is to reverse.
I think about how I've informally been taught to believe:
White is beautiful and a standard and to aspire to
Thinner is better...unless, of course, it's too thin
Your body is not your own, it's mostly for the scrutiny and pleasure of others
You will either be not enough or too much...sometimes both, but never just right
You should deny your true desires
Someone else knows what's better for you than you do
You must go against yourself, but it's for your own good
It hasn't been easy to unravel these thoughts from my brain. Unlearning is a lifelong practice. It takes constant attention, work, and care. I'm beginning to realize that it's actually a form of self-care and self-preservation.
It's a way to come home to yourself.
I'm optimistic that we can unlearn the harmful messages that have taken root in our minds and replace those harmful messages with new liberating and life-affirming truths:
I deserve to experience myself as fully human
I have the right to reclaim my life and define myself the way I want to
There is no right way to have a body
There is no right way to be myself
I am enough as I am...right now