I almost never watch the news. It is simply to . . . negative. And, while I know these things are going on in the world, I also know that I will know what I need to know. Being bombarded with horror stories of how we live and the things we do to one another is not my drug of choice. This was not the case with the Olympics. I was compelled to check in each night in order to track the progress of certain individuals and the US teams. I was delighted to hear the news about Gabby, the first African American female to win a gold medal for gymnastics. Then . . . I read the blogs on the Internet about her hair.
I must confess about the time in my life when there was very little about myself that I liked or found worthy. I was critical of my physical body, my accomplishments and almost everything else about my existence. During that experience of myself everything that I thought was wrong with me, I saw as wrong with everyone around me. It was the motivation for my criticism of my children, my partner and every aspect of in my life.
I hated myself and found a reason to hate something about everyone and everything. It is called projection. It was a function of my judgments about myself.
After many years of deep personal and spiritual work, I came to the awareness that I had been taught by my care-givers, society and myself to see myself as less-than, un-worthy, ugly or just plain-old bad. I had been taught to hate myself. It was the way my mind had been “conditioned” to see the world around me and myself. It manifested as an expectation of the worst and a habit of being critical.
It was a difficult process to unlearn what I had been conditioned to believe was true and teach myself to choose to see things in a better light. As long as I hated myself I could not see the loving essence of anyone or anything. I could not accept or receive the good around me. Once I chose to be okay with my body and my face and my size and my voice and my mistakes and my needs and my desires, things and people started to look different.
As a woman of color this was no easy feat! I grew up in a time when it was not fashionable to be of a darker hue, to have Negroid features, to have short or kinky hair or to be intelligent. There was no Essence magazine with images of beautiful Black women. There was no Oprah Winfrey Show hosted by a “substantial” woman of power and means. There was no Botox allowing people to plump their lips or implants to fatten their booties.
I grew up in a time when everything about me was less than and, unattractive. My mind was conditioned to believe that the messages with which I was bombarded were real. I had to learn to choose another truth.
As I read the stories and commentary about Gabby’s hair I was overcome with sadness. I felt the familiar pangs of criticism and the devastation it visited upon my life and self-image. I wondered if those who saw Gabby’s hair as more important than her accomplishments had been “conditioned” to hate themselves, projecting it outward or, if they were “choosing” to be critical? I wondered if they knew the difference? I wondered if the people who saw Gabby’s hair as an issue knew or understood the power of communal prayer, communal affirmation and communal celebration? Or, if they, like, me had been conditioned to see what was “wrong” instead of what was possible and good?
When I first heard of Gabby’s win, my heart swelled with pride, not just because she was African American or female. I was proud because I realized that her great, great, great grandmother had survived impossible circumstances on a ship, on a sale block, on a plantation and in a field to provide Gabby with the opportunity to stand before the world as a winner. Gabby’s win made her grandmother’s and my grandmother’s life, suffering and endurance meaningful.
You see I believe we are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us; those who gave their lives so that our lives would be better. Faith and love and prayer strengthened their lives. No one really cared about the condition of their hair. Why would we choose to make it an issue?
Iyanla Vanzant is the best-selling author of five books on self-empowerment, personal growth and spiritual healing. As the founder and executive director of the Inner Visions Spiritual Life Maintenance Network, she conducts workshops, seminars and lectures nationally. Drawing from her own experiences of family dysfunction, abuse, and poverty, Iyanla encourages us all to look at ourselves, laugh at ourselves and then take the necessary steps to heal ourselves. Her practical message is based on the principles of universal law, self-determination and the power of Spirit. You can learn more about her work at www.innervisionsworldwide.com.
Iyanla has recently appeared several times during Oprah’s Lifeclass webcast segments. You can view the classes here: http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/oprahs-lifeclass.html
Iyanla has a new show, set to appear on the Oprah Winfrey Network, called “Iyanla, Fix My Life!”. To learn more about it and apply to be on Iyanla’s show and have her help you, please visit http://www.oprah.com/ownshow/index.html?team_type=HarpoStudios