“My pretty young thang.”

The first time he told me that I literally cringed. You’d think him calling me “pretty” was enough, but that fact that the man felt the need to put a “thang” at the end of it just blows me. I know it was meant to be a compliment that should’ve made this brown woman blush (which I’m convinced is impossible lol), but instead I was immediately reminded, #1 – of my constant need to validate the fact that I am SO much more than my looks and #2 – that I refuse to subject myself to the box that others chose to put me in.

Oh… and he was FINE by the way. I mean airbrushed with the nicest waves and caramel complexion I ever did lay my eyes on. VERY easy on the eyes if you ask me, probably topping my list as the cleanest cut brothers I’ve entertained to date. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my share of men that looked like they were a real life avatar for Wakanda, dripping in melanin, muscles and tight buns. **Praise God.

Mesmerized by his looks, I immediately snapped back into reality just in time to catch his endearing new nickname for me, “P.Y.T.” I smiled and made a mental note, as I normally do when getting to know someone for the first time, waiting a bit longer until I felt comfortable enough to be myself. Not that I am a handful (or maybe I am), but I find that the best thing you can do when first meeting someone is to listen and take notes. Not everyone needs to experience all of this dopeness anyway! And even though we all are merely regurgitating our personal highlights in the beginning, time almost always reveals the truth. ALWAYS.
That along with many other habits, historically, I’ve implemented when navigating this “struggle plate” dating scene. However, in that moment, as I sat there listening to him spit out his resume and laundry list of accolades, I began to see red flags waving furiously demanding my attention. Not because he was a bad guy, but because what he said reminded me of the narrative that I wanted to escape from.

“She’s pretty and high-maintenance looking too, if you ask me. I bet she thinks she is all that. Her looks are probably all she can offer a man anyway.”

It amazes me how, and I consider myself guilty, that we box ourselves and others into places where we feel they belong. Think about it. In any kindergarten class you may find puzzles that require children to place objects- be it shapes, foods or maybe numbers in their correct place. We are all conditioned early on to believe that everyone and everything has a place, and God forbid we place those things anywhere else.

So, I learned in college specifically, that a woman like myself should be in beauty pageants, on modeling squads and seen (dressed fashionably of course) VERY rarely heard. Without realizing it, I began to believe and idolize the image that the world portrayed of me, so much that I missed out on numerous opportunities for growth and development. I passed up on things that were presented to me, because I felt like it was outside of what I was 100% certain to be my strength or something I was capable of actually doing. I didn’t believe that I was any more than what others thought of me (or at least what I THOUGHT they thought of me).

I was a slave…to my own mind, stuck inside a box I allowed to be created for myself. Often times we allow others to put labels on us, telling us who we are and where we belong. And if we are not solid and certain of who we are, we can easily be manipulated into thinking less of ourselves and the person that God created us to be. These characteristics come in the form of low self-esteem, a lack of self- love or an ambiguous perception of one’s true identity.

WHOOOO AMMM IIII???

I sat on my bed, as a new graduate from Jacksonville State University, and stared at my notes stumped by my first interview question to review. No longer geographically located in a mecca of highly-opinionated young adults, I sat there stumped at an answer to what should be the easiest question from the list. No longer did I have the safety net of my peers to help me define my identity and validate it either. It was…scary…yet eye opening.

It was then I realized that not only was I struggling with “knowing thyself,” but I had robbed myself of things such as new opportunities, memorable experiences and valuable time that could’ve been driven by what I wanted for me instead of what OTHERS wanted. I began to feel a burst of anger fill my chest, mostly towards myself than anyone else. How could I have neglected the most important person all this time? ME!

I scurried to my desk, found my favorite notepad and began to make a list. I listed all the qualities that I personally loved about myself and what made me, ME. I then proceeded in making a second list of qualities that portrayed a better version of myself. The person that I wanted to become, regardless of what others thought.

As I placed my pen next to the two lists, I felt a sigh of relief knowing that by reshaping my thoughts I had taken back the power to dictate my life. I dusted off the things I once felt needed to be hidden or dulled down. I polished my “inner pretty” and for the first time allowed for it to truly shine in all of its glorious, magical splendor.

**Steps out and checks microphone.

“So let me reintroduce myself!” **Pulls off mask.

“To others, I may have been known as just a Pretty, Young, Thang, but let me set the record straight! I AM Powerful having the ability to do anything and BE anything I want to be. You WILL respect me as a woman and no one or nothing will EVER deter me from staying True to my authentic self.” **Drops mic.