Dear Empowered Women: Don't Take Away My Power to Feel Like Trash

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At a recent coworking event, I was asked to record a video testimonial for their social media pages. I was wearing a shapeless purple sweater that served as a security blanket manifested as fashion, my face was makeup-free, and I definitely felt the 10 heavy bags weighing down my bottom eyelids. Fashionable? I was not. Carefree? Nah, I could use a nap.

“Can I record one at the next event or when I’m home and then email it to you? I kinda feel like trash today,” I said, offering a sad scrunched face to emote my sincerest apologies.

Within milliseconds, the two women I’d been chatting with rejected my statement. “You are not trash! You are beautiful. Look at you. You are awesome. Why are we women always putting ourselves down? You are ready for the camera.”

One of the two women was a friend. She’s a women’s empowerment coach who I fan out for every bit of positivity she puts into the universe. Yes, women have run “sorry” into the ground. Yes, women put ourselves down too often and let snaky marketers manipulate our insecurities. Yes, we need to get back to believing that our natural beauty is enough. AND – put on your listening ears now – while we work to help women overcome all these self-esteem challenges, empowered women shouldn’t take away our power to feel like trash.

Don’t take away our power to acknowledge that our lives aren’t one hundred percent to our liking.

Let’s back up. I love and admire my friend because she will encounter an insecure stranger and empower them – on the spot – to be confident in their opinions and existence. She is a great force for good, and we need people like her. She helps reinforce my beauty minimalism lifestyle. However, this encounter finally unlocked a thought I’d been trying to verbalize for quite a while.

I thought back to the past summer. After hearing the news of my uncle’s passing, instead of taking the day off, I decided to keep my stand-up comedy booking. I’d worked through grieving before. Overworking myself so I don’t feel my emotions is kind of my thing. However, this was my first time performing while grieving. Every time I watch the pre-show interview, I see the sadness in my eyes. I wondered if the interviewer could smell the stench of death on me. In my mind, although I was smiling and mentioning Beyoncé and #BlackGirlMagic, I just hear empty chatter. That’s not how I speak. That’s me faking happiness because I wanted to be a professional performer. New personal rule: If I feel like trash, no one is going to capture that. I don’t want to perform. I just want to be in the moment.

Whether you think I look camera-ready is irrelevant. I am telling you I don’t want to be on camera, and you need to respect that.

Finally able to interject at the coworking event, I offered my defense. “I said I ‘feel like trash,’ not ‘I look like trash.’ I look like this every day. It’s intentional. On any other day, I would hop on the camera no problem. However, today, I’m having a bad day. I cried twice before getting here. I don’t want to memorialize this day. The world will see me talking about how awesome this feminist coworking space is, but all I’ll remember are the bad things that happened. I know I look good. Thanks for the affirmation, but I feel like trash.”

“Beauty minimalism” is a term I coined as a fancy way to say “me looking like a bum is intentional.” Often friends and relatives think I’m depressed or insecure about my body because of the way I dress. I’m not. Trust me. I was the teenager who wore sexy underwear under my sloppy or prudish attire so that I could take pleasure in knowing that the boys who tormented me had no idea that I was a bombshell in incognito mode. That secret was me empowering myself. Even though makeup enhances my beauty (whatever that means), wearing it usually feels like conceding that my eyelashes are stumpy or my natural curls aren’t popping.

Listen, my parents’ DNA came together to create this naturally sexy chocolate bunny. I wake up every day in my full glory needing only the help of body lotion (Black don’t crack but it does get ashy. Let’s keep it real, now.). This is just how I feel about me. Beauty minimalism isn’t about being anti-makeup and plastic surgery. It’s about doing the minimum required to feel awesome.

Some days require face powder and edge control. On others, I don’t even need to shower. And trust me, every time my husband questions my use of makeup (he’s very pro “natural beauty” whatever that means.), I chew into him. I remind him that people have the right to do whatever they want to feel beautiful. The makeup is for me. The feather boa is for me. The shapeless purple sweater/security blanket and chapstick is for me!

Whether you think I look camera-ready is irrelevant. I am telling you I don’t want to be on camera, and you need to respect that.

I don’t participate in the Oppression Olympics because winning isn’t worth it. On that day, I wanted visible under-eye bags. My family was going through a rough time, and it hurt me to be away from them enjoying such First World luxuries as running water, electricity and Netflix. Looking like trash made me feel closer to them. It made me feel less guilty about being a survivor.

So here’s the bigger takeaway. This piece isn’t about shaming my friend for trying to inject some positivity in my life. This encounter taught me presumably negative things can be facts. Not everything has to be positivity and optimism. Everyone is going through a thing and have reasons for why they do things. Instead of rushing to make a statement, give advice, or even empower, maybe we should listen and ask questions.

The next time a friend says they’re fat, instead of replying “But you’re beautiful” or thinking of the latest diet, I should just listen and allow them to feel empowered by the power to acknowledge their situation. People can be both fat and beautiful. They can be proud of their weight gain. They can be stating a fact.

Dear empowered, enlightened, and optimistic women: Don’t take away our power to feel like trash.

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Onicia Muller is a Caribbean writer and comedian currently freezing her buns off in Chicago. A former crime reporter and children’s columnist, she's found her happy place writing about women in entertainment. If you're into oversharing, read her weekly humor column Just Being Funny in The Daily Herald’s Weekender.