Love is grand…dating not so much, but according to author and television personality, Abiola Abrams dating doesn’t have to be an uncomfortable getting to know you phase before your next relationship. In fact, dating can actually be fun, and if her experiences on the VH-1 reality show, “Tough Love” are any indication. Months after ending a 9 ½ year relationship, and days after ending a rebound relationship, the bubbly beauty was brave enough to share her dating fears and insecurities for all the world to see and came out of the experience stronger, wiser and 20 lbs. lighter.
Abiola on “Tough Love”
If you were one of the millions of women that watched “Tough Love,” you saw Abiola and seven other women work with matchmakers Steve and JoAnn Ward to overcome destructive dating behavior to finally find their prince among all the frogs. Following a growing trend in reality dating shows, the women were given a label, but instead of being a cute or decidedly degrading nickname, these labels described each woman’s perceived problem. Abrams was labeled as “Miss Picky,” a title which, after the show, she openly embraces. “I learned that it’s not wrong to be picky, it’s not wrong to be selective. That was one the things that came to me when I was watching the show. It was okay for the men to be like “well I wasn’t into you like that,” and we were supposed to be like, oh okay, but when I woman does it, there’s something wrong with you. Like somehow, we’re supposed to take whatever comes down the pike.’
Aside from being “Miss Picky,” Abiola also had to deal with all the egos, issue, and drama from the other women in the house. While she admits that (a few of) the ladies of “Tough Love” weren’t people that she would normally be friends with, she also says that the experience forced her to expand her horizons and happily calls most of fellow cast members friends. But we didn’t watch the show to see sisterly bonding, we watched for dating advice, drama, and victories and Abrams had plenty of each. The most grounded of the group, Abrams had a bevy of cuties to go out and seemed the most willing to take Steve’s straight to the point advice. In fact, Abiola made such an impression on her dates, she’s still in contact with most of them since they are all in the same industry. It almost made one question why she was on the show in the first place. While initially wary of doing the show, Abiola wanted to be a representative for all the women that have every other aspect of their lives together but we’re still lacking in the love department. “Honestly, it was an extension of everything else that I do. For me, as an author, I write about my personal stuff. I was talking to someone and they were telling me that I was a role model and I was like, ‘eh, I’m not a role model. I’m literally a hot mess (laughs)!’” It also helps that the show was executive produced by actress Drew Barrymore making it less likely for the exploitative fare that makes up the majority of most reality show.
Abiola on Body Image
While there were cute guys and fun times on the set of “Tough Love,” there were also a number of issues that were touched upon albeit inadvertently. In what Abiola describes as her least favorite moment on the show, she and the other women had to walk in front of a group of men during the first episode, who then gave brutally honest assessments. The men made nasty comments about Abrams weight, so nasty in fact, they had to be toned down for the show. As someone that had recurring hang ups about their weight, the hurtful comments really resonated with Abiola especially since so much of her livelihood as a television personality depends on her appearance, she’s actually lost jobs for gaining weight or changing her hair. When asked about the episode, she comments, “It was a really hard experience. It’s a one hour show, so we couldn’t show everything, but we actually had a lot of discussion about this and I was like culturally, my body is different. “I have a booty and thighs and that’s a good thing!” On episode two with the cupcakes, which I still stand behind, where I said ‘this is to represent for girls who eat and I’m a girl who eats. Hell yeah! (laughs) Starvation is not cute!”
While she doesn’t shy away from a good meal, Abiola also recognizes the importance of being healthy, especially for women of color. “I think that body image is an issue that hasn’t been covered enough in our communities. I think that whenever we have extra weight on our bodies, we’re trying to protect ourselves from something psychologically. That’s why I said that I gained weight to shield myself from my past. We all have to ask ourselves why about excess weight. It’s not just about a French fry.” In the months since the show, Abrams has slimmed down to a sexier, svelte version of herself. And with that new body also comes a new outlook on the incident on the show. “One of the things I said on the last episode that didn’t make it into the final cut was that when those guys called me fat basically and I was crying and upset, what I realized is that no one can insult you unless you allow them to. If you don’t believe what they tell you somewhere deep inside, then it won’t affect you. Yeah they were ignorant or stupid or whatever to look at me and think I was fat and unattractive – that was on them. But because I had issues already and fears about my weight or my body image, that’s why I was affected. It’s a given that they were idiots, but it’s also important to ask ourselves why certain things affect us the way that they do.”
Abiola on Putting Yourself First
Steve and JoAnn gave Abiola the title of “Miss Picky,” as a negative connotation but listening to her reasons for committing to herself first, you really couldn’t fault Abiola. Steve ridiculed Abiola’s goddess book that was filled with a list of qualities that her ideal mate should have, however as with most reality shows, entire scenes are left on the cutting room floor leaving the viewer with limited context of the situation. “They made a big deal of it on the show but my list of qualities that I want in a mate. They should be kind, caring, honest – I mean are there people out there that are looking for unkind and dishonest? (Laughs) Men have a list as well. They may not articulate it like that, but they have a list. Certain things like the tiara scale and points system I confess were done just for laughs, but if you can’t laugh at yourself, who can? TV at the end of the day is about entertainment, and if we’re lucky edutainment.”
While she goes on record that the Wards and production company High Noon Productions were great people that worked to make a great show, she also acknowledges there were some cultural differences. “They don’t understand that culturally that’s a choice we almost have to make for self-preservation, to learn how to be picky and selective because we put up with so much. Culturally, as women of color, we will be there for absolutely everyone else but ourselves so I don’t think that’s something they could have gotten with even the best of intentions. My instinct is to take care of other people before I take care of myself. It’s something that I have to train myself out of because it’s been detrimental to me. When my ex was cheating on me 3 months after I got married, I didn’t want people to judge him and look down on a strong black man so I let them think that it ‘just didn’t work out’ although I was devastated and heart-broken. That’s not smart.”
Abiola Lessons Learned
Although she didn’t find a love connection on the show, Abrams reinforced her original stance of being selective. “I would say to women, do be picky, be selective but be open to other types of men.” While she doesn’t want to be considered a role model, Abrams is an inspiration for women of all races. It takes an open mind and heart to reveal your deepest dating fears and insecurities to one person, but to do it on television in front of an audience of millions, well, that just takes guts. Ultimately Abiola says that everyone wants to love and be loved, but for her “the best lesson was to commit to yourself first. If I had a daughter that would be the first thing I would teach her. We tend to put our mate before everybody – friends, family, everybody, we just put them above everything. You wouldn’t have declare I am worthy if it was already culturally accepted. Being married to myself on the show wasn’t real. It was just symbolic. But now I am committed to myself for real. And since I’ve made that change, I’ve met the best guys. I am forcing myself to be single for a whole year because I’ve never done that. I’ve never ever been really single. I broke up with someone the day before the show! And the biggest gift I’ve found is that being single is fun. I am enjoying me.”
Abiola Abrams is the author of Dare, “Miss Picky” from VH1’s Tough Love and the former host of The Best Short Films on BET. You can find her online show Planet Abiola and more at planetabiola.com or follow her on twitter.com/abiolatv.