I watched the Color Purple recently, for what seemed like the fiftieth time since the movie was released in 1985. As usual, I cried at the end when Miss Celie, played by Whoopi Goldberg ,was reunited with her long-lost sister and children. This time, one other scene resonated with my spirit, when Miss Celie announced that she was leaving her abusive husband. He responded to her by saying,“What are you going to do? You’re Black, you’re poor, you’re ugly and you’re a woman.” My goodness! A person has to be very comfortable in their skin to have spirit breaking insults hurled at them, whether directly or indirectly and still have the strength to move on with their life, like Miss Celie did in the movie.
When I was growing up in the late fifties and early sixties, I wasn’t comfortable in my skin. Honestly, I didn’t know that I had the right to be or how to be comfortable with myself, for that matter. I never saw girls that looked like me, with dark skin, wide noses and kinky hair in magazines or on television. My kind of beauty was not accepted, not even by my community, where most of the women and girls tried to adapt their looks to fit into a standard of beauty that wasn’t our own.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager in the late sixties, when singer James Brown wrote the song, Say It Loud —I’m Black and I’m Proud in 1968, that women and men stopped straightening their hair and began wearing Afro’s. I was one of those women, proud and comfortable to wear my hair natural.
But, it takes a lot of self-work for one to remain comfortable in their skin. I went throughout most of my young adult life working on building my self-esteem. I was resilient and persevered in spite of adversity and considered myself to be #blackgirlmagic, even before it was a concept. I had graduated from college, became a school teacher, gotten married, purchased a house and raised two children. I truly believed that I had conquered all of my insecurities and my life was finally together.
I was unstoppable—until contracting HIV.
HIV stopped me in my tracks and put my life at a standstill for ten years. Because of HIV stigma and discrimination, I spent ten years trying to get comfortable in my skin again. I internalized all of the misconceptions, myths and fears that society thought about people who lived with HIV. I felt shameful, guilty and worthless. My self-esteem had dipped to an all-time low as I hid my HIV status from my family and friends. Then, I realized that I had to uplift myself and move on with life. I began writing daily affirmations such as, “ I sow the seeds of peace, joy, love and harmony in the garden of my life because having HIV means I must plant the life I want to live.” Eventually I had written enough affirmations to put into a book entitled, Gaining Strength from Weakness: 101 Positive Thoughts for HIV Positive People. https://www.amazon.com/Gaining-Strength-Weakness-Positive-Thoughts/dp/1499082517/ref=la_B00QJU54OM_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1525136646&sr=1-1
Today, I still read my book of affirmations because being comfortable in your skin can be a continuous process when you are living with HIV. Some people still have negative opinions of people who live with HIV. Stigma, criminalization and discrimination still exist and it’s disheartening when you hear or read insulting, stigmatizing comments or someone is being discriminated or criminalized for having HIV. The struggle to fight HIV stigma continues for people living with HIV, who just want to be treated with dignity and feel comfortable with who they are.
Miss Celie, summed it up for me in the Color Purple, when she stood up to her husband, looked him fearlessly in his eyes and answered, “I’m Black, poor and may be ugly but dear God—I’m here! Amen, Miss Celie, Amen!
A special thanks to Zee Strong, creator of The AIDS HIV Survivor Living Memorial : A Digital Living Quilt. These lovely photo frames allow people who are living with HIV to feel comfortable enough in their skin to show their faces to the world.