There’s a new addition to the cadre of songstresses I simply adore and yodel along with in the car: Teedra, Jill, Erykah, Adele, Goapele…and now Elle Varner. A few weeks ago, I surprised my bestie with a belated birthday gift and took her to see another homegirl-in-our-heads, Chrisette Michele. Elle was one of the opening acts. She was cute as pink punch and loaded with personality, which made me like every song she did. When she got to “So Fly,” though, I felt like this girl had reached into my crippled little psyche and turned my private me-thoughts into a public song. It was almost invasive to have someone share such similar brainwork, but it was also reassuring to know that I’m not the only one having it.

I love being a woman. Love, love, love. But my least favorite thing about it, which has nothing to do with us and everything to do with social convention, is that we’re sectioned off into parts and pieces like a herd of ill-fated cows. It starts when we’re still kids, young and unknowing, and doesn’t let up until we’re wheeled into somebody’s retirement complex. For the rest of the time in between, we’re steady being picked apart for how light or dark we are, how round our butt is or isn’t, how much hair we do or don’t have, how big our breasts are or ain’t. In the process of trying to measure what we aren’t according to this impossible standard set by men, the media and years of hand-me-down mental conditioning, we don’t get to appreciate what we actually are. Not for long, anyway.

I have never felt beautiful. Between mean-spirited kids in school and a couple of really bad relationships, I never had a chance to. So it’s hard to accept or embrace compliments because too many years of being told what was wrong and not enough reinforcement about what might possibly be right created the combustible point of no return for my self-esteem. I’ve accepted that that’s my personal lot in life which, compared to the extreme opposite of begin mind-numbingly shallow or self-absorbed, didn’t seem all that bad. But I’ve noticed my daughter, who is 13 and just as adorable as she can be—and not just because she’s my child, though don’t all mamas say that?—is falling into that same cycle.

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