The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree: Reflections of My Mother and How She Influenced My Self Esteem

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Self-esteem and confidence has always been a serious battle for me. A mixed chick with naturally curly, reddish-browish-blackish hair, and kinda thick lips, a “white nose” and bushy eyebrows, I found myself hating “both” parts of me; my blackness and my whiteness. I did not fit either description of beauty, in my eyes. I was jealous of dark skinned girls who could fully embrace their blackness and the strong, beautiful features that came with it. I felt like a watered down version.
 I have big hips, but my butt is kinda flat. I’ve been told I “talk like a white girl.” I’ve even been told that I’m not black enough to say the “N-word.” I’ve always struggled with this “black but not quite black enough” stigma that deeply damaged myself esteem over the years.  I wanted so badly to have that perfect hour-glass shape and creamy chocolate complexion like my black cousins. But the reality of the situation was that I just didn’t fit that description. After about 22 years, I finally came to grips with that.
 
My mom, who is half white and half Afro-Hispanic, married a black man. And had a bouncing baby girl by him back in ’88. She had black friends, black boyfriends, and listened to “black music.” So it was no shock or surprise when she had a black daughter three years into her marriage to my biological father.
 She raised me to be a proud, beautiful black woman because even though we did not share the same skin tone, she understood the importance of me embracing my features. She constantly built me up; she told me I was beautiful in the morning, and oohed and awww’ed over my thick, curly hair. She wasn’t much of a hair stylist, but she made sure somebody with some experience got to my head! She pinched my plump little cheeks and told me how much she loved me everyday. You would think with all of that love and affection that my head would be the size of an air balloon, but it certainly was not. I hated everything about myself. I thought I was the ugliest child that ever lived. Despite constant offers and suggestions to be put in modeling competitions, and all of my mother’s friends always saying that I was just the prettiest little girl they had ever seen, their words only made me hate myself more.
 
I used to wonder why their words meant nothing to me, despite the constant adoration. You think after all of that, I would be the most confident little girl in the world. But in my older years, I started to understand why a little bit more. As I grew up, and I got to know my mother as a woman instead of “mommy,” I got a view into her psyche and her feelings. She, too, struggled with her own self-image.
She grew up in a abusive household, with a violent, alcoholic father and an emotional void, manic-depressive mother. She hid from her parents, escaping her world through her love of sports. A true tomboy at heart with four older brothers, my mom found her identity in how well she performed on the court, not how well she dressed or the latest hairstyles. She didn’t have aunties and female cousins running around, and her mother could barely pull herself out of the bed let alone teach her hair and makeup tips. My grandmother never told her she was beautiful, matter of fact, according to the legend, my grandmother never even uttered the words, “I love you” to any of her children until right before she died in 2002. My mother led a life filled with emotional and physical abuse, neglect, and pain. I actually read a page from her diary where my mother said, “If I ever have a daughter, I will NEVER treat her the way my mother treats me. I hate her. I would be a much better mother than her.” She carried that pain and resentment throughout those crucial teenage years, and later went on to marry the first man who gave her a compliment the day after her high school graduation, my father.
 
Throughout her young adult life, trying to grow as a woman and wife, my mom encountered more emotional and physical abuse from my father. She jumped from one fire to the next. He told her that she was ugly and worthless, that no one else would ever love her, and she believed him. He was only reconfirming the hateful things that my grandfather would scream at her as he stumbled in from the bar each night, looking for someone to victimize. But then something wonderful happened; she found out that she was pregnant. She put all of her hope and aspirations and dreams into this little life growing inside of her; she would finally have some to love and someone who loved her back, her life’s greatest wish.
 
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After I was born, my mama kept true to the words that she had written in her diary back in 1984. She loved me more than life itself, I was truly her pride and joy. She finally got up the courage to leave my father in 1992, because she wanted a better life for me. She worked two and three jobs to keep the lights on and keep me smiling. She couldn’t afford to shower me with all of the fancy things that other families could, so she showered me with love. Nothing made her happier than to make me happy, and she worked diligently to teach me everything she could, and to build up my confidence as best as she knew how. She didn’t always know the “right” words to say, but she just knew that she never wanted me to feel the way that her family made her feel. She never wanted me to doubt myself the way she did, never wanted me to feel ugly or unloved. Unfortuntely for her, our legacy of self-doubt carried on to her pretty little daughter despite all of her sweet words of love.
 
It wasn’t until I had went through the awkward middle school phase, and starting defining myself as a woman in high school and college that I started to appreciate my mama’s support and love. I started to believe her, and believe in myself, a little bit more each day. Over time, I started to look back and think of all the special times that she and I shared throughout my childhood, and even now today. Even though I’m 25, married, and out of the house, my mom still sends little “I love you, just thinking about you” texts. She still tells me I’m beautiful.
 And now that I’m older, and I’ve come to more of understanding and acceptance about myself, my heritage, and my looks, I can appreciate those compliments and put them to good use. I thank my mother for building me up in a way that she was never built up, and for loving me in a way that she was never loved. Now, I try to return the favor, and show her that she is loved and beautiful, too. I don’t take my happiness and sense of inner peace for granted; I know that that came from the love that my mother so selflessly gave all of my life, even when she wasn’t feeling very loved or beautiful herself.
 
So after all of that, no, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Even with my mom’s extremely loving and nuturing ways, I still battled with my self-esteem and felt unworthy at times, just like she did. I didn’t know how to do hair or makeup, because she didn’t know how to teach me.
 I wasn’t the most stylish until I got around some people who knew how to dress (and quite honestly I’m still not), and neither did she. But her love did help me to grow in a new direction, a new way. I didn’t have to deal with emotional and physical abuse. She taught me enough to make sure that I never dealt with less than I deserved from a man. She helped me be strong and wise. She made me tough, and supported me in all my academic endeavors. She drove me to school plays and orchestra recitals. She did everything she could, the best way she knew how, while struggling with her own inner demons. And my undying admiration and appreciate for her and her strength is what makes me confident in what and who WE are, as mother and daughter.

I Want To Hear From You:

  • What effect do you think your mother had on your self-esteem?
  • If you have or had a daughter, in what ways would you try to influence her self-confidence positively?
  • Can you relate to this?
  • Share your own experience.

Melanie Harris

Melanie Harris was born in Baltimore, MD and raised in Anchorage, AK where she graduated as her class valedictorian in 2006. She is a musician, and the author and creator of Spirit & In Truth and GirlMelanie.com. She loves to write, play music, dance, travel, and do outdoorsy stuff. You can find Melanie socially on Twitter and Instagram @whooooamellie and on Facebook – Girl Melanie The Writer

Comments

  1. Very good article Melanie. I tried to comment several times, but it kept falling. Probably due to the fact that comment was so lengthy. I have a lot to say about this subject. So my official comment can be found here:

    http://accordingtobrittanygulley.blogspot.com/2013/08/i-was-raised.html?m=1
    Brittany Gulley recently posted…I Was RaisedMy Profile

    • Brittany, I am not sure why this site is acting funny with comments right now! I do appreciate you for still finding a way to provide your comments!