I will open my mouth wide and sing
in praise of my ethnicity, embracing the beauty of my rich physique. You
will respect me. You will hear me. You will see that I am not an object
of ridicule. I am a woman of color, size, and power.
I’ve heard it all.
You have such a pretty face. Have you tried Weight Watchers? How much
do you weigh?
Don’t you want to lose weight? You have a boyfriend? She’s
pretty, but she’s too big!
How can you walk? Aren’t you uncomfortable? You like to shop?
Girl, I know you can cook. Were you always so heavy? Do you have high
You’re going to eat that? What’s he doing with you? You’re
going to die!
There was a time in my life that these fruitless words of negativity adversely
affected my self-esteem. I hated the width of my body, the dark hue of
my skin, the kink of my hair, and the deep tones of my voice. I hated
everything that made me uniquely different from the glorified thin and
When I was about seven years old, I visited my pediatrician, whose name
was Dr. Alcantara. I’ll never forget her. She was a tiny little
ninety-pound speck of a woman. She yelled at my mother and asked her,
“How could you let her get this way?”
I left the doctor’s office that day feeling like a freak until my
mother grabbed me by the shoulders, looked deep into my eyes and exclaimed,
“Don’t you ever let anyone as long as you live tell you how
to feel about yourself. You are my child, a beautiful little bundle of
love and I’m gonna love you regardless.”
I stared at my mother and saw how her lips curled when she said those
words. The determination of her curled lips and the intensity of her eyes
let me know she meant what she said.
In my weakest moments of self-loathing I envisioned the wealth of love
existing within my family.
I had a powerful mother who was smart, elegant, sexy, and confident. She
loved the round curves of her body and the mocha hue of her silky complexion.
I had a strong father who was handsome, intelligent, regal, and kind.
I loved to watch my father embrace the fullness of my mother and kiss
her generously on the lips. I could sit for hours and listen to the rise
and fall of his effervescent voice as he exclaimed to whomever was around
that his girls were the most beautiful women on earth.
I internalized the positive reinforcement I received from my family. Eventually,
I began to believe it for myself. When someone decided to challenge my
self-esteem, I simply reminded him or her that I was the most beautiful
woman in the world. If they had an issue with that I told them where to
go and gave descriptive directions on how to get there.
Developing high self-esteem did not happen over night. It was a process
of honest self-assessment, rediscovery, and spiritual clarity that began
in my late teens and continued into my early twenties.
My peer group had the benefit of forming their cultural identities in
a social setting that was comfortable for them. I, being one of the fifteen
black students in my graduating class, had to find my voice in a sea of
people whose only exposure to African American culture were stereotypical
images on television.
In order to survive, I had to develop a strong sense of myself. I refused
to allow their negative opinions about black people and overweight people
affect the positive image I had of myself.
I smiled at those who made fun of me and retaliated by purposely performing
acts forbidden to fat girls.
I became the vibrant 215-pound cheerleader with long braided hair extensions
cascading down her back. I was the first one on the dance floor and the
last one to sit down. I was the first chair flutist, the soloist in the
talent show, and the best dressed. Go ahead and say something about my
weight, I thought. I’ll knock you down with a hit of my witty tongue.
By the time senior year rolled around my spirit was fatigued. I was tired
of having to defend myself for being a woman first, black second, and
fat last. It came to a point when I could not take a compliment without
thinking someone was either lying or trying to make me feel better.
On numerous occasions complete strangers would tell me, “Oh you
have such a pretty face.” The first few hundred times I heard this
comment, I thought it was a compliment but as time went on I began to
see it as an insult.
I believed that people placed an emphasis on my pretty face, because my
full-figured body did not fit into the mold of beautiful.
I would glare at the person who gave the compliment.
“What do you mean, a pretty face? What the hell is wrong with the
rest of me? “ I would question with a sister-girl neck roll and
a curled lip.
The stranger usually apologized, exclaiming, “I’m sorry I
did not mean it that way.”
More than likely the stranger meant to compliment me but I was fighting
so hard to prove my self worth to other people, I lost that special spark
within my nature that provided me with joy, self-love, and peace of mind.
I simply could have said thank you and moved on but my identity was lost
in anger and self-deceit. For so many years I had tried to prove to the
world that I was not a stereotype, I lost the essence of Kamane’
in the process.
It did not matter how many cartwheels, splits, and toe touches I performed
or how fabulous my hair and make-up were, if I was doing all of those
things to appease an audience rather than to benefit my self-esteem, it
was not worth doing.
As I entered into my early twenties, I decided to rediscover those special
characteristics that formed my true identity. The first thing I performed
was the difficult task of accepting everything about myself, from head
to toe, inside and out.
I stood butt naked in front of the mirror for several weeks and screamed,
“I love you,” at the top of my lungs. Over time I began to
appreciate the fullness of my breasts, the round curves of my hips, and
the size and shape of my legs.
I fell in love with my creative nature, my kind heart, and my ability
to remain faithful amidst adversity. Once I was comfortable with the woman
inside and outside of me, I was then able to conquer certain bad habits
that were detrimental to my mental and physical health.
Stress was an enemy of mine that I had allowed to invade my life. What
could I do to alleviate stress besides reaching into my snack drawer?
I began a regular exercise routine and decided to load my snack drawer
with healthier alternatives. When a certain situation attempted to raise
my stress level, I calmed down, took a deep breath, and forged ahead,
refusing to be overcome by my circumstances.
I rediscovered the joy of living by healing the pain within my spirit.
I chose prayer and the instant gratification of good conversation with
positive people. I created a circle of love and support around myself
with friends and family who accepted and respected me.
Writing poetry, taking salsa lessons, and attending church functions were
activities that were fun and stimulating. As my spirit healed, life improved,
and I found that the anger I held in my heart against those who had hurt
me was gone. I was able to breathe again because my spirit was whole.
Understanding the value of my existence ignited my spirit. I became a
powerhouse full of happiness, peace, joy and love. God blessed me with
life for a reason and I was determined to live abundantly regardless of
the stereotypical perceptions others attempted to use against me.
Today, I am the flavor of my spirit, the charismatic nature of my soul,
the intelligence of my mind, the glamour of my style, the loving temperament
of my heart, the ample curves of my body, the beautiful lines of my ethnic
features. I am the magnificence of the woman dancing inside my skin. I
am me, Miss Kamane’ Malvo, and that’s all the woman I need
Since his mercy endures forever, I am in good hands (Psalms