Learning Self Value: An Open Letter to Mo’Nique

We talk about self-love as if it’s something easy to attain. Read a motivational quote, post a fierce selfie, dismiss anyone who treats you less than you deserve & indulge yourself in life’s little wonders. Do all that and you’ll be basking in self-love, right?

As I’ve taken this journey to come to terms with myself throughout the last a few years, I have learnt that loving myself isn’t something that happens overnight, nor something that is always consistent.

At best, I find myself enjoying certain parts of myself, while being frustrated with others. Never really enjoying the whole. Always trying to one up myself. Wanting to better myself. Maintaining the expectations I’ve set for myself, all while trying to uphold the ones enforced upon me. I am constantly battling to create a perfect pendulum of balance. And in always trying to do better and plan ahead, I forget that the core of self-love is being able to appreciate that I grow from my actions, the good & especially the bad.

Self-love doesn’t come easy.

It requires dedication, patience & thought. Self-analysis & self-criticism. To push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. It requires us to show up each day and do so authentically. But most of all, it requires us to be forgiving of ourselves & to have compassion for our short-comings. And on a day that’s based on showing love, I hope that we all get a little closer to that, so that we’re a little closer to receiving the same acceptance & kindness from others.

-Nabila Farhat

Want to know a secret? When it comes to me learning to appreciate my body and love the skin I’m in, women of size and curves were one of my primary inspirations.

I don’t share this story often because when I do I often catch flack for it. After all, why would a 6’5” man who is thin, athletic and has done modeling and acting in the past have issues with self-esteem?

For a myriad of reasons, I was uncomfortable in my own skin. On the best of days, I made Clark Kent look like Oliver Queen. Add to that I weathered a childhood and adolescence of negative reinforcement. Growing up I was very self-conscious about my body. While I wouldn’t dare compare my experience to that of the plus-sized individuals (because there is no comparison), I will say that thin people catch more grief about their bodies than many might expect. I still have a few friends who think I have an eating disorder.

No really, I do not have an eating disorder.

However many of my days have been plagued with frequently being told I’m too skinny, too tall, too black, too inferior. Not to mention having to stay in the closet on top of that.

As I’ve said many times in the past, having the power to love yourself in a world that fears and hates you is nothing short of a superhuman feat in itself. Allow me to explain. We live in a society that if a woman isn’t a size -2, then she’s treated like a leper. Never mind the fact that beauty comes in all ethnicities, shapes, sizes,  if it’s not white it’s considered not right. This is a culture that pressures young girls and women to starve and kill themselves; binging, purging and overdosing on pills in the hopes of attaining an unrealistic body type. Anyone who isn’t killing themselves to get thin (or isn’t thin already) is persecuted. And even when you are naturally thin, you’re body-shamed.

“If you’re a woman, person of color, LGBTQ, a person of size…then you are considered a minority and it’s going to be really hard to find messages of self-love. For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution and our revolution is long overdue.”

-Margaret Cho

Despite all of the rebuke they receive, these heroines keep their heads up because no matter what lies or bile society spews, they know they are beautiful. They embrace every curve on their bodies and they rock them to the fullest. When they go out, they dress to impress, or as the kids say, they come to slay. They don’t resent others who might be “society’s ideal” because they genuinely love themselves and know they are blessed. And they won’t allow anyone to take that away from them. It was their example that I wanted to emulate in my life. For they taught me it is possible to love one’s self even if you aren’t straight and white.

“I always get asked, ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well meaning, but it’s pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?’”

-Mindy Kaling

It was through the examples of women such as Cho, Kaling, Nia Jax, and Queen Latifah that I learned my value as a person. But it was Mo’Nique who took said tutelage one step further.

Be it her hit tv series The Parkers, her films such as Phat Girlz or even her stand up specials like I Coulda Been Your Cellmate, this Queen of Comedy had a universal message of empowerment. No. matter what the media or society tells you, you are beautiful. Embrace that which makes you unique and love who you are. We are not the definition of our physical shells or our situations, dire as they may be. Mo’Nique also taught us that with self-love and determination, the impossible can be achieved. When you work on the internal, you garner the potential to change the world. There is no greater testimony to that message than Mo’Nique herself. Her journey from harsh humble beginnings to an Oscar-winning actress is nothing short of miraculous. To even witness this star shine can be a guiding light to those lost in the nebulous void of depression and despair. No matter how much Mo’Nique’s fame grew, she never missed an opportunity to give back. Case in point, Mo’Nique has gone on record stating that her film projects Blackbirds and Bessie were her love letters to the LGBTQ community.

Sadly where there is progress, a backlash is sure to follow. For Mo’Nique’s success would yield another universal truth of a sobering kind. Self-love breeds contempt. To be a minority who embraces self-love is to seemingly to invite attacks.

In the last year, it has been well documented that Mo’Nique has been at odds with Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels who Mo’Nique claims “whiteballed” her and lied on her after their collaboration on the film Precious. Mo’Nique’s crime? Being a black woman who said no and established boundaries. Daniels and Perry are examples of how other minorities full of internalized hate will try to hinder the progress of one of their own. To quote Zora Neale Hurston, “all my skin folks, ain’t my kin folks.” Despite the lies that were told, it was ultimately proven that Mo’Nique was walking in truth.

In February Mo’Nique made headlines yet again when she stood up to the corporate shot-callers at Netflix and put a spotlight on their business practices and their attempts to swindle her. While critics tripped over themselves to victim-blame Mo’Nique, the facts ultimately revealed that she was not only telling the truth, but the fine-print in the Netflix contract was even shadier than originally reported.

The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

-Malcolm X

Mo’Nique knew her value and demanded equality from a white corporate juggernaut. Even in the 21st century, a black woman demanding fairness is a revolutionary act. So while the ordeal didn’t result in a comedy special, a richer teaching moment resulted.

“Compromise where you can. And where you can’t, don’t. Even if everyone is telling you that something wrong is something right, even if the whole world is telling you to move. It is your duty to plant yourself like a tree, look them in the eye and say, no. You move.”

-Margaret Carter

So how do the trials in Mo’Nique’s career translate into fortifying one’s mental health? Too often people believe that if they find religion, diet and exercise, or make other positive changes, life will immediately get easier and there won’t be any pushback. Unfortunately, it’s quite the contrary. When you strive to better yourself, you will often buck the status quo and that will invite trials by fire and you will often be forced to walk a thorny path alone. This is not to discourage you, no, quite the opposite. This is to fortify you mentally, emotionally and spiritually, when the inevitable storms arise. Change is rarely easy but there is a reason it is worth fighting for. Weathering those storms and trials can only make you better. After all, pressure crushes but it also creates diamonds as Mo’Nique proves.

“Come with every wound and every woman you’ve ever loved; every lie you’ve ever told and whatever it is that keeps you up at night. Every mouth you’ve punched in, all the blood you’ve ever tasted. Come with every enemy you’ve ever made and all the family you’ve ever buried and every dirty thing you’ve ever done; every drink that’s burnt your throat and every morning you’ve woken with nothing and no one. Come with all your loss, your regrets, sins, memories, black outs, secrets. I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than you.”

– Warsan Shire

Only heaven knows what lies ahead for Mo’Nique which is to be expected. After all, trailblazers tend to forge their own paths. But one thing is for certain, I am grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from her and the other beautiful people in my quest to become the best possible version of me. Whether teaching moments, movies or comedy specials, I  look forward to what lies ahead for the Queen and will definitely stay tuned. In any case, thank you and God bless.