Written for a Tuesday chapel service that I lead at Starr King School for the Ministry on 3/10/15
Once every six to nine months my jeans respond to thighs that won’t quit by, well, quitting. So, I take myself to the one store that sells jeans that fit close to how I’d like them to and buy a new pair. When I’m lucky, I’m in and out in under 30 minutes and walk out with pants basically identical to the ones I’m replacing. When I’m not lucky I wind up in the fitting room for far too long, and eventually a sales associate starts to try to bring me things. Several times this has ended in a strange and quite uncomfortable interaction between me and the aforementioned sales clerk.
See, that store is always coming out with new versions of jeans that are supposed to have some sort of magic tummy concealing powers, and the sales associates – bless them, just doing their jobs – are often trying to make that a selling point. I’m not always at my kindest or most understanding when I’ve just tried on several pairs of jeans that don’t fit. Notably once a confoundingly thin sale’s associate’s gushing about how the spandex panel in these jeans would ~*magically*~ control my tummy and make me look thin resulted in me looking at her, looking at my tummy, and looking back at her only to say “you think that’ll work?”
I’m not mad at her, I never was. I’m mad at a society that wants me to try to disappear. I’m hurt by a society that wants all of us to hide – to wrap ourselves up in some restrictive physical, emotional, or spiritual construct in order to “fit”. I am resistant to a society that doesn’t see that it isn’t just ok that we’re not all the same – it is amazing.
We talk a lot in our communities about how to be welcoming to folks from all walks of life, how to feel like home for people who have never been home, how to be safe for people so commonly hurt by an unsafe culture, and I’m so glad we do this, but how often do we talk about coming home to ourselves? I know that for me it’s so much easier to be open and accepting and loving towards other people.
I have almost endless space in my heart for other people’s flaws – perceived or otherwise. I love being with people who have different experiences than I do, I love what I see in others the same way I love flowers – the things other people might find imperfect I find beautiful. I am grateful for their variety. I’m the first to push back when a friend or acquaintance is being hard on themselves. I think it’s my job to show up for my people in their struggles. And…sometimes I don’t think any of that stuff applies to me. I’ve spent years unlearning internalized fatphobia, biphobia, femme phobia, and stigmatization of mental health issues, and still…some days I wake up and I wish I could just be normal. Some days this body and this life feel like too much. Some days I want a break from being me. I bet we’ve all had those days.
We all have these things. The stuff we hide as best we can and hope nobody notices. The stuff we were taught was “wrong” about us, that would make people not like us, not love us. We are fat and queer and trans and Black and brown. We’re people who are chronically ill, and who experience mental health problems, and who interact with the world in a way different from the “norm”. We are people with bodies and lives that we are supposed to believe are wrong. We’re told to hide, to disappear, to blend the best we can. To kill pieces of ourselves so that someone else may think we’re ok.
But we are ok. We’re better than ok. We’re beautiful.
We are – as Pslam 139 says – fearfully and wonderfully made. We are stardust. We are the universe experiencing itself. We are, each of us, a miracle.
On days when I wake up unsure that I can handle being myself, there are two simple things I always turn to: lipstick and hip hop.
Now, these particular things may not work for you, but hear me out.
Lipstick can be armor when I need it to be. I look at myself in the mirror and I’m not ready to be me, but one swipe of bright red reminds me of my strength, my vibrancy, my love of myself. I take the time to decorate my body, in general, in honor of my love for myself. Writ larger this means I get tattoos and buy dresses I love and in general arrange my presentation in a way that reminds me of who I know myself to be.
Maybe I can’t feel my Divine light that particular morning, but I smooth on some lipstick and I feel like it starts to show back up. Even on my best days, I am bright and loud for a reason: in a world that wants me to disappear – that spends a lot of time trying to literally get me to take up less space – I refuse. I’m here, I matter, and you will see me.
As for hip hop, well, I could give you a whole other sermon on what hip hop as a genre means to me, but I’ll try to be brief. Some mornings call for a beat that makes me want to dance. For lyrics about resistance, about thinking you’re the best in a world that doesn’t really care about you. Some mornings call for “If I ever wasn’t the greatest, I must have missed it”
Some mornings call for the poet Kendrick Lamar telling me over and over again “I love myself, I gotta get up, life is more than suicide.”
What gets you through? We gotta get up, life is more than suicide.
Fearfully and beautifully made, children the Divine, stardust that has figured out how to experience itself, walk in your light. Be you, you’re the only one who can. Find something that reminds you of you, a way to remember on the days that are hard. Listen to your favorite music, put on your favorite outfit, get up, dance. Love yourself like you love the world. Love yourself like you love God. Be brave when you can, be you loudly and fiercely, make space in the world for someone like you, and know that your community has got your back. How could anyone ever tell you you were anything less than beautiful? Your beauty is abundant. Your worth is abundant. You matter so much.
And if anyone tries to tell you that you don’t, that you’re not, quote the poet Saul Williams
“Never question who I am
God knows, and I know God personally.
In fact, she lets me call her me.”