Private Party

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Private Party

Written By: Adrienne C. Moore, actress, known for Orange Is the New Black, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtt and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Photos By: Anastasia Garcia

I'm having a private party Ain't nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin' "Baby, look how far we've come, yeah" I'm havin' a private party Learning how to love me Celebrating the woman I've become, yeah

If you would have asked me when I moved to New York to pursue acting, what my journey would bring me, I would have said something about discovering my technique as an actor or honing my skill as a performer. Never, ever would I have thought this journey would bring me to confronting my body, how I felt about it and how I have come to learn to love and accept it each and every day.

When I was first asked to write this blog, I was filled with memories of stories that I wanted to share about my relationships with my body over the years. Where do I begin? What do I say? For example, do I share with you all about how I was constantly called “big girl” or “big nose” by the boys in school and how that made me hate my body. It was clear to me, even then, that the boys preferred the petite girls with long hair. Or do I tell you that by the time I was in high school I was in and out of weight loss centers - with grown women, discussing our emotional relationship with food. As a teenager - seeing these women struggle with the same issues as me, didn’t build my confidence in the outcome of my own weight loss journey. It made me feel as though I was beginning this never ending battle of trying to lose the weight I would eventually gain. Maybe I should tell you of my time as a dorm residential advisor at Northwestern University and how I found myself dealing with students who had eating disorders. It even drove me to try binging once. It felt awful and I felt awful for doing it. How am I supposed to help my residents if I’m repeating them? Moreover, how can I help them heal when I can’t even heal myself? Little did I know these experiences were setting the stage for the biggest battle of my life. The fight? Trying to love myself, while secretly hating my body at the same time.

I always felt awkward about my body. I was this tall, broad-shouldered black girl, who felt more at home on a basketball court, than I did discussing the latest fashion and beauty trends with my girlfriends. I was an athlete and dancer, so I thought of my body as a utility of sports – not as a function for beauty. And to be honest, I didn’t care that much about my beauty, however, a larger part of me did care because I felt I lived in a society that placed so much value on it. As a result I wanted to be considered an example of this beauty. When I would watch TV programs or open up magazines, I barely saw images of women that looked like me, being celebrated as beautiful. I would see advertising campaigns that would promise that if I tried this new beauty product, diet program or workout regiment, then I would be more attractive, sexier and thus happier. My own perception of my beauty – or lack thereof – prevailed even when someone told me that I was the version of beauty that women would want to emulate or that men would proudly wrap their arms around. I would politely thank them, but secretly tell myself that if they could only see the rolls on my stomach and back; the stretch marks spidering out in every direction or the dark spots between my thighs – years of them rubbing together, they too would see how “un-beautiful” I really was. I felt ashamed of my body, and I idealized the day when I could change it into something anyone would accept as beautiful. I convinced myself that once I took care of all the flaws – the extra weight or the rolls and stretch marks and when my thighs no longer chaffed, then I’d be beautiful. But not until then. I had psyched myself out of my own beauty.

At 26, I moved to New York City to pursue my dream of becoming an actress. One of my second year courses at the New School University was in stage combat. I didn’t anticipate this class would cause me to confront my body and how I felt about it. It seemed like a fun and safe class – where I would learn to engage in combat with other people, not myself. My professor, Rick Sordelet, would teach us combat sequences or instruct us to move about the classroom at different speeds and directions; always emphasizing the importance of knowing and being spatially aware of our bodies and those around us. One day, he sent us home with an assignment: stand in front of a mirror, naked and just take in your body. Look it over, head to toe. Look at the areas of your body that you don’t like, touch it and tell it something positive. Keep doing that until you feel that it’s the truth, until you believe it for yourself. “What is he talking about,” I thought? “He’s crazy. What does that have anything to do with stage combat? Stand in front of a mirror… naked! He wants me to come face to face with my naked body and all its flaws.” I did everything I possibly could to avoid that reality. And now I’m being asked to do it as an assignment. No way! Part of me wanted to dismiss the assignment altogether, lie about it and say that I’d done it. I went home that day, not knowing what I was going to do, but one thing was clear, this was not going to be fun.

I got home, turned on my music playlist, took off all my clothes and reluctantly stood in front of my bedroom mirror. At first I just stood there, looking at myself. I took in every inch of me: my big nose, my broad hips and shoulders, my stomach fat rolling over my pelvis. Everything that I hated about my body just seemed to jump right out at me and attack my self-esteem. It was if my body glared back at me – my back fat, thigh fat, arm fat, and dared me to say something positive about it. I grabbed my stomach and squeezed the rolls. I disgusted myself. With every squeeze, I grabbed harder and tighter. It was as if I was fighting the fat and hoping that if I squeezed hard enough, it would just come oozing out and disappear. I felt the years of mental abuse that plagued my mind – telling myself that I wasn’t beautiful or worthy and how I used food as my excuse to soothe the hurt. I thought about all the money I’d wasted on unused gym memberships and diet programs and I became overwhelmed with sadness. I wanted to end the exercise, walk away and go to my fridge to look for comfort food as I usually did. I knew this was going to happen. Standing in front of this mirror naked only caused me to remind myself of the the body I was trying to avoid.

I stepped away from the mirror and was just about to give up the exercise when India Arie’s Private Party flicked on from my playlist. I love this song. I started dancing as the lyrics floated through the speakers. Then I started listening and the lyrics nabbed me:

“I'm gonna take off all my clothes Look at myself in the mirror We're gonna have a conversation We're gonna heal the disconnection I don't remember when it started But this is where it's gonna end My body is beautiful and sacred And I'm gonna celebrate it…”

For the first time, I heard the words clearly. I couldn’t believe that I had just been standing in front of my mirror, naked and trying to convince myself that I was beautiful. Suddenly it hit me: the battle wasn’t with my body or the foods I’d eaten that caused the weight gain or even with an industry that I feel doesn’t accept me as a definition of beauty. The battle was me and my own self perception. I’d allowed so many external influences to define my beauty or tell me how I should feel about my body, instead of defining it for myself. I realized then that if I was ever going to feel differently about my body, I had to think differently about it. I had to reprogram the years of negative self-talk I had done to myself. The only way to win this fight between me and body, was through loving every inch of it.

Standing in front of my mirror again, I began to have that long awaited conversation. I looked at my nose and I immediately saw that kid who was called big nose and I felt compassion for her. I told her, “so what your nose is big, you need those strong nostrils to suss out the fake people in this world.” I held my breasts in my hand, felt the weight of them and I thought about the number of times family members, friends or kids that I’d nannied had buried their heads in my chest for that good cry. Suddenly, I found this new appreciation for them. Yes, they’re big, point downwards towards the ground and aren’t perky, but they have comforted and nurtured so many people through difficult times. I held my stomach and paused. I couldn’t think of anything positive yet. I kept grabbing it hoping that – maybe if I squeezed hard enough, a compliment might pop out of the fat, but it didn’t. Honestly, it reminded me of the countless number of magazine covers and articles I’d read – featuring skinny women, discussing how to get those hot sexy abs in 15 minutes or the diets they promised would work or even how to look sexy to nab that man. Then I asked myself, “so Adrienne, until you have the flat abs or find success with that diet or look hot and sexy to nab that man (or woman, wink) then what? What does that “until” time look like? Are you just gonna be unhappy? Are you not going to feel attractive? Well that doesn’t make sense - to not be happy or feel sexy until you’ve attained their goals.” Between the me of right now and achieving that unattainable goal was not the weight of my body, but the weight of life. That’s when I realized that being sexy or beautiful is a mentality, not a physical trait. Happy is a feeling, just like feeling beautiful and sexy, and they should be determined by my own thoughts, not my physical traits and certainly not by someone else’s definition. Although social conditioning and an advertising industry have led us to believe that these feelings are predicated on physical attributes, they simply are not. They are states of being and I have the power to define what they are and look like. So, with that, holding my stomach, I said simply, “you ARE beautiful, Adrienne. You ARE sexy – even with this gut, and you deserve to be happy.” And for the first time, I could actually hold my stomach and believe it because this time I really understood that being and living those feelings had nothing to do with what I looked like. I had the power to set the narrative for me. That was the day I began the journey of healing myself. I now look at the stretch marks and dark spots between my thighs with new eyes. I don’t see them as imperfections, rather as casualties of war in the plight to love and accept me as I am. It became clear to me that day if I was ever going to love and honor myself then I must begin by accepting who and where I am presently. Furthermore, if I want to make changes to my body, then I must do it for my health, not to satisfy an industry that sets unrealistic and narrow minded views of what a beautiful body is.

I wish I could say that after that exercise I never had body image issues again, but I would be lying to you. My weight has continued to fluctuate over the years and I’ve often had to go back to the mirror and do that exercise over. I will say, however, that I’m not as hard on myself as before. Matter of fact, when I’ve gone through a period of weight loss and gained it back, I stop myself in the mirror, have a quick laugh and say, “oh snap, you back? Ok, let’s get to talking Adrienne.” And I get to talking. And I hold those areas on my body again and I love them and I tell myself over and over again that I’m beautiful and sexy and deserve happiness, despite what I may look like in the mirror or that I live in a society and work in an industry that tries to tell me otherwise. Full acceptance of my body is a journey: some days I win and some days I struggle. And I am ok with that.

If we begin self-acceptance at the individual level then together we can shape a society that accepts a broader definition, thus changing the culture around what is healthy and what is beautiful. Working in the entertainment industry, I have been asked to disrobe for a scene a few times and I admit I still struggle with doing that. The better part of me understands that if we are ever going to change the definition of beauty at every size, part of that starts with me – by setting the example. But the struggle I find is not with using my body as that vehicle for change, rather with a society that still chooses to judge me based on how I look. I wrestle with the thought of some high school kid, parent or individual making a mockery of a picture of me with GIFs or posting slanderous and judgmental comments about my body. I recall a time when a dress that I wore to an award show revealed some of my breasts and I received many comments about how ashamed I should be for revealing that much of my body. And that hurt. It still hurts.

 

It is my wish that as we move towards a healthier society, we look at health and beauty from an introspective place and not by what our bodies should look like or what we should or should not reveal about it. The truth is our bodies come in all shapes and sizes and we will always find flaws with it. But it’s the vessel that we’ve been given, so we might as well learn to embrace it, love it, change it if we can, but don’t be defined by it. How we choose to present our bodies should be in celebration of our own individual beauty, not the definition of it.

Private Party by India.Arie

I'm having a private party Ain't nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin'  "Baby, look how far we've come, yeah" I'm havin' a private party Learning how to love me Celebrating the woman I've become, yeah

I tried to call my mother, but She didn't get where I was going I called my boyfriend, and he said "Call me back a little later, baby." I hung up the phone, I felt so alone Started to feel a little pity That's when I realized that I Gotta find the joy inside of me

I'm having a private party Ain't nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin'  "Baby, look how far we've come, yeah" I'm havin' a private party Learning how to love me Celebrating the woman I've become, yeah

I'm gonna take off all my clothes Look at myself in the mirror We're gonna have a conversation We're gonna heal the disconnection I don't remember when it started But this is where it's gonna end My body is beautiful and sacred And I'm gonna celebrate it

I'm having a private party Ain't nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin'  "Baby, look how far we've come, yeah" I'm havin' a private party Learning how to love me Celebrating the woman I've become, yeah

All my life (all my life) I've been looking for (I've been looking for) Somebody else (else) To make me whole (oh) But I had to learn the hard way (oh) True love began with me (oh) This is not ego or vanity (oh) I'm just celebrating me

I'm having a private party Ain't nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin'  "Baby, look how far we've come, yeah" I'm havin' a private party Learning how to love me Celebrating the woman I've become, yeah

Sometimes I'm alone, but never lonely That's what I've come to realize I've learned to love the quiet moments The Sunday mornings of life Where I can reach deep down inside Or out into the universe I can laugh until I cry Or I can cry away the hurt

I'm having a private party Ain't nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin'  "Baby, look how far we've come, yeah" I'm havin' a private party Learning how to love me Celebrating the woman I've become, yeah

Happy birthday to me Happy birthday to me Happy birthday Happy birthday to me (Happy birthday to me, ooo) Happy birthday to me Happy birthday

I'm having a private party Ain't nobody here but me, my angels, and my guitar, singin'  "Baby, look how far we've come, yeah" I'm havin' a private party Learning how to love me Celebrating the woman I've become, yeah 

(2x)