I remember the first time I noticed I was ugly. It wasn’t like I hadn’t heard the word several times before but this time I knew it was true. This time it stuck.
I was about 8 years old when my mother decided to relax my hair. She bought a box of PCJ Relaxer for girls with coarse hair. As she washed the relaxer out my hair fell off in the sink, leaving me with just a few short inches of hair. My grandmother tried to rectify the situation by setting my hair with curlers. An 8 year old with curlers?”. I thought. But I didn’t mind because for the first time I felt like a grown up. Because the only people I knew who used curlers were grown.
I slept with the curlers over night. The next day was Monday, a school day. My grandmother unraveled the curlers from my hair, fluffed it up and placed a pretty headband around my head. I put on the new outfit my mother had bought for me and off I went to school. High-steppin’ with a brand new outfit and a new do. I knew I looked good. Until I arrived to school where my pride swiftly came tumbling down.
“Is that a jherri curl?”
Ugh! There goes James my arch-nemesis since kindergarten beckoning in my ear. I was sitting quietly at my desk waiting for Ms. Morrow to start the day when the interrogation about my hair began. Surrounded by a group of boys and girls, all who were analyzing my appearance.
“No, that’s not a jherri curl!”
I was frozen in silence. Horrified by this newfound attention I didn’t know how to respond.
“She looks just like Danielle!”
The only other dark-skinned girl in the class with curly hair who also wore glasses.
“No, Danielle’s pretty. Anekia is ugly”.
It wasn’t the first time I heard that word, and it certainly wasn’t the last time I would hear that word again. Yet, it stuck with me and I carried it with me for the next several years of my life. Ever since, that day I wore the word ugly as if it were a second layer of skin. In fact, I was ugly and I knew it. As I grew older I came to accept the fact that God made some people beautiful and others ugly – and I was one of the ugly ones. Even as I matured I believed that I thoroughly exemplified that word. Every time someone told me I was ugly it confirmed my ugliness. Eventually, hearing the word no longer hurt. I grew to accept it.
Overtime it took a toll on my self-esteem, my self-worth and my definition of beauty. I grew to the point that it was difficult for me to look into the mirror. I constantly compared myself to other girls around me. I was never pretty enough, my hair wasn’t long enough, I wasn’t tall enough.
Ugly. A shadow that followed me long into adulthood. Until one day in my grown up years I had an epiphany: it quietly settled into my soul and slowly opened up like a blooming flower. Anekia you are beautiful. Where did it come from? An angel. The gods. From within. I don’t know, but when I looked in the mirror that day I saw someone different. And she was not ugly. She was a woman and she was beautiful. A woman who decided to no longer allow one single word to hold power over who she believed herself to be. She is me.
This reflection reminded me of how much power we bestow on the negative words directed towards us through out life. In one day wee can hear a million positive words affirming our beauty, strengths, and abilities in one day. But the words we choose to hold on to are those few negative words. Without a doubt words do hold power – but we have the power over which words we accept as truth.
Anekia Nicole wrote this for Flux, an online forum for those of us encountering adulthood. Anekia is a hippie-spirited nerd who wears her heart on her sleeves; she prides herself on being an introverted chatterbox with a soulful heart. Anekia currently uses stories from her journey through life to motivate, empower and inspire others. You can find out more about Anekia Nicole and check out her blog at AnekiaNicole.com.