I think I realized that I didn't have much power when I started school. I skipped kindergarten (much to my dismay) and went straight into 1st grade at a small town, mostly white, Christian, tight knit school where everyone's parents knew each other and everyone had just finished graduating together three months before. They knew each other from being in the same neighborhoods, going to the same churches, attending the same fundraisers. Their older siblings were friends. They would carpool. They hung out together on the weekends and went to each other's houses and had birthday parties I never heard about. I don't think I made a single friend all year, except a little boy named Michael who I followed around because every once in a while he would turn around and say hi.
The girl with the most power (read: prettiest) in my class was a very pale girl named Mindy, with ice blue eyes and curly hair. She wore a lot of pink and glitter.
The boy with the most power (read: the most athletic) was an olive-skinned boy named Jordan with green eyes and a buzz cut. He was the fastest boy in class, even though I beat him once or twice.
Once I got so sick of the isolation that I tried to curl my unstraightened hair with my mom's curling iron. It didn't look anything like Mindy's. I didn't understand. I thought I was pretty. I thought that I was nice. Why didn't anyone like me?
We moved to Milwaukee for second grade and things completely changed. The school was still small and tight knit but it was completely Black and this time, I was in; I went to the same church, lived in the same areas, and began to grow up with my classmates. I went to the birthday parties, had people over at my house, and developed close friendships. People thought I was nice! But I noticed,
The most powerful (read: prettiest) girl in my class had relaxed hair, an upturned nose, and pretty pink and purple school supplies.
The most powerful (read: most athletic) boy in my class was fast, great at sports, and taught himself how to backflip (I can't outrun him to this day).
I was good at sports too, and fairly athletic, but because sports were a "boy thing" I was almost never invited to play. In fact, I would find myself laughed out of the gym when I would yell "CHECK ME" while the other boys in my class played basketball. Also because I ran so hard at recess I was admittedly not neat and pretty like my female classmates, so no power there, either. Once again, I clung to one person (Janna, my sister, who is basically biologically required to be my best friend, HA) and wondered what was wrong with me. I begged my mom to relax my hair. She finally obliged me.
In middle school I excelled in my academics, especially reading, much to the delight of my teachers who would literally announce my state test scores to the entire school like they were trying to get me killed. I was still athletic, still creative, and still much nicer than I am today.
Again, the power players in my school were as follows;
The most powerful (read: prettiest) girl had beautiful dark, basically poreless skin and long, soft hair ("It NEVER gets nappy" a male classmate once exclaimed to me in awe).
The most powerful (read: most athletic) boy was fast, hilarious, and now, experienced; he had dated four girls, two at the same time, by the time we graduated the eighth grade.
Me? I had acne, dressed in big clothes to hide my developing body, and sported weird mushroom hairstyles complete with ribbons (WHY MOM) to hide my breaking hair and bald edges. The word on the street was that I was ugly. Not athletic or funny or nice. I was thought of as smart, thanks to my teachers' constant announcements, but my lack of cuteness prevailed over all.
Never one to accept a situation as concrete, I began to study my peers; what they dressed like, what they did with their hair, what they listened to, how they danced, even what they ate. Pretty was not what it used to be; in 1st grade having nice hair, bright colored clothes, and a cute smile (basically looking like you were ready to be cast in a Nickelodeon TV movie) were enough. But now that puberty hit,
I needed to be thin, but not too thin.
I had to have the right shape AND
My body had to deposit fat in the right places
My hair had to be long and flowing
My skin had to be clear
My current eyebrows were unacceptable
I had to wear makeup but be skilled enough with it that no one could tell
I had to wear the right styles, colors, trends, and brands.
I started my freshman year with a flat wrap (bye bye poofy mushroom hair), tweezed eyebrows, and fresh sneakers. I came to school the first day. I came to a couple school events out of uniform with my new threads. People reacted coolly to me, instead of put off.
I HAD TASTED POWER.
AND I NEEDED MORE.
Of course. You can never have enough.
I started shopping for Tommy Hilfiger clothes and K-Swiss. I graduated to a cell phone and hair appointments. I got more into makeup to cover my acne scars and accentuate my already very round lips. And kids started liking me even more.
SWEET, SWEET POWER.
Wore my jeans tighter.
Wore my braids down my back.
OMG DELICIOUS POWER.
Got a boyfriend.
HOLY FATHER THIS POWER TASTES SO GOOD THAT IT HAS TO BE FATTENING OH GAAAAAAWD.
I stopped serving things that didn't give me power. Stopped reading as much. Stopped being athletic outside of PE class. Stopped being creative with how I dressed and did my hair (I had JUST gotten this power, I wasn't going to mess it up with something like imagination. C'mon). I was afraid to experiment with crazy makeup outside of my dresser mirror, no matter how much I wanted to.
Because while those things made me feel good, not being treated like less than by my peers made me feel better. I had subconsciously learned through my peers, my favorite books, my TV shows, music videos of my favorite music artists, ads, and even my parents than a woman's main source of power is in the way she looks. Everything was background.
The prettier the better, and it had to look effortless but also perfect.
Even and especially when you just wake up. All the sitcom brothers who made jokes about their pretty sisters made that clear.
Pretty also meant fit, but not too fit, and not too sweaty, because then you would be a manly slob and they had almost no power.
And nice clothes that showed off your figure, but not too much, because then you'd be a hoochie, who have some power but don't get respect.
And you should hang out with a couple guy friends so that you seem chill, but not too many because then you are a hoe and they have power over some guys but "not the ones with sense".
You should be smart, but not too opinionated.
Also domestic, but be experienced at life.
Flirty but not sexy, otherwise you are a hoe.
Go to parties but only certain ones and you should know the difference or you're a hoe.
Love yourself but don't show anyone that you love yourself because then you are a conceited hoe.
Also these rules seemed to change depending on your popularity status, race, age, who you were dating, who liked you, who your girlfriends were...a myriad of other things...
And while I was getting more practiced with keeping up with the rules (ya'll, I looked at my sophomore year high school diary and I literately kept a list. WTF) I felt more confused and less powerful every day. This persisted at various levels for the next decade or so. "Looking pretty" evolved into "acting pretty" , which apparently included being quieter, having a sweet, high voice, being delightfully insecure, and delicate. Literally all of these are the antithesis of who I am. I was starting to lose the battle.
Starting to lose my power.
NOT MY HONEY SWEET ALL-CONSUMING HARD EARNED POWER.
In the interest of transparency I will admit that I went a little batshit. See last week's post.
This only stopped when I stopped dating for a nice, long while. I moved away from my environment and was the most alone that I have ever been. I "unplugged" so to speak, spent a lot of time by myself, and realized that yeah.
Basically, this was all complete bullshit.
When I stopped subscribing to all of that I felt more powerful than ever.
Except that I still find myself analyzing my broad shoulders (from doing aerial silks) pinching my tummy (my buddy since birth) and pulling on my hair to make it stretch longer. As much as I kinda hate it, I still feel less powerful when I don't feel attractive. For a long time, I chastised myself about that.
"I should love myself outside of my looks!"
"I shouldn't care about my size!"
"I should be more positive about my body!"
"I...I...I!"... had to realize that I was living in an environment that put total emphasis on my looks and then shamed me for doing the same thing. An environment that placed my access to power on something mostly in the control of genetics then shamed me for attempting to tip the playing field in my favor after I found that I was losing terribly.
An environment that told me that now, after years of study and practice, that I was good at looking good, my confidence was insufficient.
An environment that told me that I should be more secure with my natural self while indoctrinating me my whole life to be the opposite.
An environment that ignores that everyone strives to be more powerful, in one way or another, and that everyone has things their confidence hinges on.
Some people access power with looks.
Others with intelligence.
Some with connections.
Some with savvy.
Some with athleticism, some with association with an organization they respect, some with their art.
Some with talents
Some with noise, some with peace
Some with marriage, some with being detached
Some with their family name
Some with education, some with parlayed life experience
Some with assimilation, some with standing out.
Some, with ways that clash with their current environment or culture.
Some feel forced to abandon their uniqueness in order to avoid being powerless.
It's all over the place.
And it's all lost on the little kid watching their favorite show, wondering why the little girls never sweat and the little boys never preen.
The little kid unconsciously deciding to give up the power they were born with, the very power that they will spend the rest of their lives trying to recover.