Mama, am I beautiful?

Alice through the looking mirror

I never leave the house without my trusted little notebook. No fancy apps for me, thank you very much. I like it old school when it comes to jotting down thoughts, ideas, and lists. I carry the little notebook everywhere because I never know when I’m going to be inspired by something I see, smell, taste, touch, or hear. But I digress.

This morning, whilst standing in a line at the supermarket, I found myself digging through my purse. My fingers swiftly searching for its weathered spine and bent corners. I say swiftly because inspiration is a fickle lady who arrives unexpectedly in the unlikeliest of places and dances out as quickly as she dances in. The scene in front of me continued to unfold.

“Mama, am I beautiful?” asked the girl for the second time. Irritated, the mother replied, “Stop being so vain and hand me the milk.” I swiftly jotted down an idea for a post.

Stop being so vain.
Four words that regress me in time. I am 14 years old and standing in front of a mirror, silently contemplating my reflection.

“Bella, stop being so vain and finish your chores,” I hear my grandmother say.
“Don’t waste your time, mamá,” replies my mother. “Bella will learn soon enough that God punishes vanity.”

“Ma’am, are you ready to pay for your items?” The cashier’s question brings me out of my reverie. Walking home, all I can think about is why the mother thought her daughter’s question was prompted by vanity.

On the one hand, I admit there is such a thing as a narcissistic personality. After all, we’ve all come across individuals so conceited, they believe themselves to be better than others. On the other hand, I wonder if there is anything wrong with thinking one is beautiful.

I am beautiful.
Something I think all women should say to themselves every day.

Are these words spoken in vanity or are they an affirmation of self love?

Had nana been right in thinking I was vain for looking in the mirror, or was it acceptable for me to be mesmerized by the reflection that stared back at me and whispered, “You are perfect just the way you are”?

Does a woman suffer from a Narcissus complex when she chants the words, “I am beautiful,” or do these simply reaffirm her self worth?

Was my mother right in thinking vanity is a sin or am I right in believing pride in one’s appearance is a sign of healthy self esteem?

My mind wanders back to the young girl and her question. Had she asked me, my answer would have been, “Yes, yes you are.”

While vanity may reside in many who are fixated with their physical appearance, I find that in moderation, it can also help us believe in ourselves and our abilities. In other words, vanity can be used as a means for self love and acceptance.

In a world where society, culture, and the media dictate the standards of beauty, I’m under the impression vanity may be the only tool we have left to battle false ideals. After all, who better to tell us we’re beautiful than ourselves?

What’s your take on vanity?


What would you tell a younger you?

cafe con leche 2

I still remember the first time I heard pop singer Pink’s song, “Conversations with my thirteen year old self.” At the time, I thought how utterly wonderful it would be to regress in time and warn a younger me of all that lay ahead, to insist I do certain things, to behave or not behave in a particular way.

Yes, life would be easier if we knew what lay ahead, if we knew which decisions would result in hardships and struggles. Yet even while this is not possible, I still find it useful to contemplate how I would be better prepared to steer the course of my life if I knew what lay ahead. I find it’s still therapeutic to think of the things I’ve done and shouldn’t have or the things I didn’t do and should have done. Because even though I cannot change the events that have taken place in my life, I can still identify lessons learned.

I pondered this as I drank my second cup of cafe con leche this morning. As I sat, soaking up the early morning sun at an outdoor cafe, I overheard an angry exchange between a mother and an adolescent girl over her appearance. While the mother desperately tried to convince her child that she looked fine in her swim suit, the girl insisted that she would not take her shirt off at the beach and “expose the public to her fat rolls.”

As I listened to her words, I regressed in time. I easily retrieved a mental picture of myself at thirteen. I remembered how difficult it was to feel good about myself, how I struggled to accept myself. At the time, the opinion of others mattered so much. My decisions revolved around what others thought, said, or demanded. The media ruled how I felt about my body, my person, my self. Comments from friends and family dictated my mood and self worth. Magazines told me what I should wear, weigh, and eat. It was excruciatingly difficult to know who I was, to become acquainted with the real me with so many voices telling me who I should be, what I should do, and how I should act.

Yes, life would have been so much simpler if I had been able to warn myself that the opinions of others would not define me, that it wouldn’t be necessary to seek validation, acceptance or approval. That I and I alone would determine my worth and what others thought of me would not serve as a compass in my journey of self discovery.

If I could go back in time, I would tell my thirteen year old self that physicality alone should not define my essence. That I am so much more than a face, a body, a size. I would insist I follow my heart but only after weighing the consequences of my actions. I would affirm that while dreaming allows me to envision possibilities, realism provides the wisdom to know when to walk away and when to scrap what doesn’t work and start fresh.

I would encourage a younger me to not expend energy on other people’s problems, to stay away from toxic folk, and abstain from meeting the expectations of others. Given the possibility to regress in time, I would shake the adolescent me, hard, and say that no matter what anyone says, I am destined to become a phenomenal woman.

Sisters, today when you look in the mirror or catch a glimpse of your reflection, smile at yourself and say, I am beautiful. I am unique. There is no one else like me.

Because it is every woman’s destiny to breathe, feel, and experience joy. But alas, this is only possible when we believe in ourselves, when we believe we have what it takes to do whatever we want to do.

Let us learn to love ourselves unconditionally and without reserve.

Watching the tears trickling down that angry teen’s face this morning, I was reminded of how easy it is to hold ourselves hostage, to deprive ourselves of feeling joy, to sabotage our right to be happy.

And while it may not be possible to warn our thirteen year old self, we can still move forward, secure in the knowledge that we are phenomenal women.

Each and every one of us.

Yes, ladies, we are phenomenal women meant to shake our hips without reserve, hold our heads high, and laugh heartily with every step we take.

What would you tell your thirteen year old self?

Won’t you please look my way?

This is Emilio, our neighbor.

I wish I could say he’s Roxy’s friend, but unfortunately, he doesn’t want anything to do with her.

He barks loudly, and even growls, when she tries to engage him with a friendly woof.

Poor Roxy.

Every morning she saunters out to the balcony, trying to catch a glimpse of Emilio.

If he’s there, she wags her tail energetically and her ears perk up.

And if he’s not there, she spends most of her morning in a slump, attempting to chase away her sadness sunbathing.

I’m miffed at Emilio’s unfriendly attitude.

I’ve counseled Roxy on the importance of maintaining a positive attitude even when Emilio snubs her.

Life is too short to dwell on dogs that don’t value you, or give you the importance you deserve, I tell her.

Nevertheless, Roxy’s intent on not listening.

Relentlessly, she sits on the balcony, standing watch until Emilio comes out.

Most days, he treats her with indifference and doesn’t acknowledge she’s there.

Other times, he snarls and turns his head away.

Roxy, undaunted by his apathy, looks his way wistfully, hoping he’ll acknowledge she’s alive.

This morning, while I sat on the balcony drinking my coffee and admiring the ocean view, I witnessed another episode of the Roxy-Emilio saga.

I couldn’t help but liken Roxy’s situation to that of the many women who are hell-bent on gaining the attention of a man who’s not interested.

As Roxy sat by the table, waiting for Emilio to look her way, I thought how it resembled women who sit by the phone, waiting for a phone call that never comes.

I wanted to feel compassion for Roxy’s plight, but instead I felt frustration.
And confusion.

I can’t but wonder what drives her to sit in the same spot, day after day, waiting, hoping, that Emilio will give her the time of day.

On the other hand, Emilio, the little cretin, struts around his balcony like a peacock spreading his tail.

The little runt. Who does he think he is?

I look at Roxy and say, “Go inside. Go.”

Then, like a crazy woman, I turn to Emilio and whisper, “Who do you think you are, you little Terrier with a Napoleon complex? Roxy’s to good for you. You hear me? Just you wait. What goes around, comes around. Go inside!”

Emilio reacts by dismissing me with a swish of his tail.

But it doesn’t matter.

I’ve said my piece.

As I enter the apartment, I find Roxy sitting under the dining room table, looking quite depressed.

She reminds me of women I’ve known; women who’ve reacted in the same way when a man hasn’t shown them attention.

She reminds me of a dear friend who went on a hunger strike when the guy she slept with on a first date never called.

She reminds me of a neighbor who cried her eyes out and refused to leave her room because an ex-boyfriend didn’t want to get back together.

Yet that’s what some sisters do.

They refuse to move on, even when the men they’re interested in couldn’t give a rat’s ass about them.

They go on stake outs, follow the man’s every move, and risk being charged with stalking or harassment.

Why aren’t we able to accept a man’s not interested?
Why can’t we embrace, that sometimes, it’s not meant to be?
Why do we torture ourselves, embarrass ourselves, and make ourselves vulnerable to hurt and pain?

Like Roxy, we venture out, hoping and wishing the object of our affection will look our way.

And like Roxy, when met with defeat, we curl up in a ball and bask in our depression.

Which leads me to ask, “Is a man worth all this anguish?”

Are we incapable of realizing that it it doesn’t take a man to be happy?

That we have the power to make ourselves happy?
That we’re hurt only because we allow it?
That in the process of watching a closed door, we don’t see an open window?

I pick Roxy up, pat her head, and say, “There are more dogs in the beach. Forget about Emilio and remember you’re Roxy Lee.”

She stares at me intently and nudges her leash with her snout.

I take this as a sign that she’s ready to put herself out there again.

And I couldn’t be more proud.

Ladies, at what point should we move on?