Low self-esteem is an issue that I spent the entirety of my pre-teen and teenage years struggling with. It also plagued me in my earliest 20’s. And as I reflect on my self-love journey, I cannot help but remember the young girl that I once was. I remember the hopelessness she felt whenever a boy she liked chose one of her friends over her. I remember the hurt she felt whenever boys would tease her for liking one of their friends. I also remember the pain she felt when boys would be mean to her. And as I remember that pain, I am reminded of one particular incident where a boy’s words cut her to her core.
I was a freshman in high school and trying to figure out who I was. And while in this process of discovery, I met Ben. Ben was junior at my high school. He was an attractive young man and very talented. It was the age of MySpace. And after making a new account, I began to add my peers to be my friend on this social media platform. And to my surprise, Ben sparked up a conversation with me!
I must admit that was excited because this cute boy wanted to talk to me! And after what felt like a pretty good conversation, Ben asked to see a picture of me. I hadn’t added any photos for fear that the worst would happen – for fear that I would be seen as ugly. But after holding my breath, I took a leap of courage and sent what we now call a “selfie.” It was a very innocent photo of myself – cute even. So I thought.
After waiting in anticipation, with hopes that he would say something kind, Ben replied with a resounding, “Oh my god…you’re so ugly I would never date you!”
And while I did not have the confidence to reply to him back then, as a girl with a self-esteem labeled: fragile, do not drop, I thought it would be okay to honor that young girl by responding to it now. Now, on the other side of the self-esteem spectrum. So, this is my response to this atrocious verbal assault:
You probably don’t remember me. I remember you though. And what I remember most about you was the effect that you had on my already fragile self-esteem when I was 15 years old. See, I had struggled to see myself outside of the lens that had been handed to me as early as a second grade. Boys always called me ugly. They always chose my sisters and my friends over me. But you didn’t know that. Besides, you were attractive. You could sing really well. Girls really thought you were something great.
Ben, I wonder if you’ve ever heard the saying, “sticks and stones may brake my bones but words will never hurt me.” Well, whoever came up with that was sadly misinformed. Because, Ben, words hurt. In fact, it has even been said that death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Meaning, words have power to either give life or speak death.
Now, don’t get me wrong Ben…I know you probably didn’t think much of what you said. I wouldn’t be surprised if you said that to multiple girls. But whatever the case may be, I just think you should know that your words were damaging. And I won’t get into the specifics of what I believe your words caused in me, but I will say this: Ben, I forgive you.
I know you didn’t ask for it. And it probably doesn’t make sense to you that I would wait all these years later to respond. But now, as an almost 25 year old woman, I wanted to say this to you publicly because the effects of your words were witnessed by the public. People saw me struggle with this. People witnessed my pain. And now, I want them to witness the reality that you CAN be free from the bondage of low self-esteem.
So, I forgive you. And I forgive me for believing you. For believing that your opinion had any validity in my life. For allowing your invalid pubescent opinion to shape my reality. Ben, I forgive you. And I don’t know what you are doing with your life. But I wish you well. I pray that you have grown up. I pray that you have come to love yourself. I pray that in loving yourself, that you do not forget to love on your sisters – your black sisters. I pray that you always remember that there are people in this world who do not think much of us as black women and that as a black man, it is your mandate to speak well of us. After all, we have given birth to the world you now live in.
Peace and blessings to you, Ben.
-A fully grown woman who loves herself enough to reshape the meaning of my own past experiences to show other women that they DO have agency in the meaning of their story.
Men…don’t be like Ben.
And please, teach our young boys to come up a little higher.