Love Me, Love My Imperfections
O, The Oprah Magazine | From the April 2006 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
In my mother's view, to be gorgeous was to be brainless. And to be brainless was to commit the sins she'd never forgiven herself for: promiscuity and educational poverty. The "fast girl" who'd gotten pregnant out of wedlock twice before age 20, Mom sought a strange kind of redemption: She may not have kept her skirt down and her grades up, but she would certainly raise girls who did.
Which is why, when she caught 12-year-old me experimenting with lipstick, she pounced: "Do you think you're cute?" she spat, hurling the lipstick into the garbage. "Now go start on your algebra."
I was nearly 30 the first time someone—a boyfriend I loved—told me I was beautiful. "Me?" I said. Chatty, yes. Witty, maybe. But my mother had spent 20 years and hundreds of dollars on SAT prep to make sure I put smart into the slot where other girls put pretty. "Can't you see yourself?" my boyfriend quizzed. I couldn't.
Then, two summers later, I found a photo I'd never seen before: my mother at 19, Rockette legs emerging from teensy hot pants, nipples at full salute, Afro stretching toward the sky, a bootylicious hottie babe modeling a stunning figure I can only dream of, yet bearing a face almost exactly like my own. Can't you see yourself? No—but now I could see the woman in the photo. And I could see that whatever erroneous notions Mom might have given me, she gave them along with her intelligence, her courage, her imagination, and, yes, her beauty.