I grew up in Brooklyn, where at 13 my friends and I practiced our responses to boys who would holla at us from bodegas. Back then it wasn’t called street harassment; it was just a series of friendly interactions that culminated with us offering fake names and fake phone numbers, even to the boys we liked.
I would have read this in junior high school. No doubt about it. And my parents would have been like what is this?!?!?!
My teenage flirtations mean that I still have a predilection for men who are a little bit too hood for my own good.
So I was unprepared for the chilliness of New England courtships, where men didn’t call out to you on the street, even in a friendly fashion. Here, men fumbled their way into dating relationships after a strange series of dates that included bad wine and good cheese. I became used to being valued for my intelligence, and not for my physical beauty. I had to find my own way to feel beautiful in a town overrun with Puritan ghosts.
And where the men look like this.
At least once a day, I look at myself in the mirror and say, “I’m really pretty!” And I usually mean it. I mean, shoot, if I don’t say it, who will? I have a responsibility to validate my intelligence and beauty in a world that is designed to tear me and all women apart for our imperfections.
Recently, I went to a pub that strangely enough, had a surplus of black men. It was perhaps the only time that I was hit on by three different generations of men. The older men asked me what my sign was; I felt like I was in a club in the 1970s, sans the afro and polyester. A younger guy from Bed-Stuy just bought a house out in the country; we talked about his collection of sneakers, Timberlands, his career as a chef, and the bullet that convinced him to move away from New York. His cousin, a tattoo artist, suggested places on my body for me to get a discreet tattoo, should I want one. Another older black man looked at me and said that my smile, although innocent, made me a dangerous and powerful woman.
What could I do? I smiled.
It was only because I was convinced of my own beauty that any of these men talked to me. I wish my 13 year old and 23 year old self knew that my perception of my beauty matters the most. Having the courage to believe that you’re beautiful when you don’t look like People’s Most Beautiful List is powerful. Feeling positively about yourself, even when you’re having a bad day, creates a positive energy that will draw people and amazing experiences to you.
I didn’t need all those men to validate my beauty at all.
But it was still good to hear, “You don’t even know how sexy you are.” I need more New Yorkers in New England. (And real talk–men from Brooklyn are the best.)
Know that you’re beautiful!