Throughout my life, I’ve had the normal female body issues. Nothing too obsessive. I’ve lamented my thighs. I’ve counted calories. I complained about empire dresses not fitting my body type. Being 6’2”, I’ve often whined about the lack of pants options. But, I’ve never particularly obsessed or even been acutely aware of my body as a black female. Personally, I find this an amazing feat since I went to college in Los Angeles and was surrounded on campus and in the city by petite, skinny, and pretty blondes every day. However, I never felt intimidated. Admittedly, I felt awkward when I first arrived on campus but mostly due to a bad wardrobe and the unruly un-arched eyebrows. Once I waxed my eyebrows and found the mall, I wandered through the streets of the City of Angels with confidence and happiness.
I’ve dated guys outside my race before and never thought much about how they perceived my Black body. I had never feared that they were exoticizing my body or our relationship. I’ve realized that all my past non-black boyfriends came from middle class families and I had knowledge that they had either dated or at least hooked up with women outside their race before. For these guys I wasn’t a test case. I wasn’t a line item on a bucket list. I was simply a normal human girl who they wanted to date. I was never self-conscious about my body as a black female until I dated my last boyfriend.
I distinctly remember having a conversation about him years before we dated. I had indicated to a then-friend that I had a crush on him and she gently explained that a potential relationship was doomed. She plainly stated that: “A guy like that will never be with a girl like you”. That one sentence reverberated in my subconscious and served as the backdrop to our brief relationship. Despite the fact that we both went to the same law school, her implication was that class, status and race created a rift of inequality between me and him that I could never close no matter how hard I tried.
We’d met in law school and had been close friends for 8 years before we started dating long distance for a few months last year. He lived in Washington, D.C. and I lived in Chicago. I had never thought about how I would feel about us dating. I had been so confident in myself and we had been friends for so long I hadn’t anticipated the amount of anxiety and fear held at bay. But, unfortunately, he brought out every dormant insecurity in my corners of subconscious. He was a New England WASP (honestly, he is half Jewish – not sure if that counts as a WASP but you get the point) who attended boarding school in Connecticut. I was a black girl born and raised in the Hayward, California who received an academic scholarship to a private school and traveled to school each day by public transportation. When we were friends we felt like equals. When things turned romantic, all I could think about was how I could never be what he wanted. The confidence I had spent 30 years building disappeared into thin air as soon we kissed. I knew that during his sheltered life he had rarely had contact with different races and I was almost certain he had never dated outside his race. Moreover, we had very different upbringings and I feared my beliefs and outlook would be belittled by him. My parents were working class. I was a laid-back quasi-hippie from California. Despite my job at a large law firm, I felt naturally middle class and grounded. Sure, I have bought nice things but I don’t need them. I didn’t grow up with them and could be just fine without them. From the moment we started dated, I became more uncomfortable in my skin than I had ever been in my entire life.
I spent upwards of $500 a month on personal training and spinning classes and dropped nearly 40 pounds. I began counting and tracking every calorie entering my body. Most nutritionists and doctors agree that a balanced diet coupled with moderate exercise is a good thing for any person. However, my motivation was not overall health and wellness. My motivation was not mine. My motivation was that one sentence: “a guy like that will never be with a girl like you”. I heard it during every spin class. I could feel it in my ears each time I made a dinner of kale and roasted chicken (stop salivating, will you?) I was working my ass off to become whatever it was that a WASP from New England was supposed to be into it. That included a new wardrobe. However, after a paltry five months, I was ultimately unsuccessful and he dumped me. Truth be told, he never really seemed into it so it shouldn’t have been a shock. But, for all the physical, mental, emotional and financial exhaustion I had endured, it felt like a wholly unsatisfactory ending.
While his condescending and non-responsive nature during our relationship was probably a manifestation of his lack of interest in dating me, I internalized it. In my mind, his behavior was proof that he viewed me less as a human and more as a piece of meat. He dumped me and quickly started dating a person who society would deem a more suitable counterpart. And, on cue, that quick coupling only served to reinforce my deep seeded belief that our brief fling had merely been a fulfillment of a fantasy on his part. Much of my neurosis was fueled by the underlying thought that he had only wanted to be with me to see what it was like to date a black girl. My replacement only served to cement that thesis in my head. He replaced me with a skinny, pale, much shorter white woman who did yoga and read lots of books. And in an instant I had the walking talking manifestation of all that I had been killing myself to resemble and that which I had feared I could never contend with. My friend was right all along: “a guy like that will never be with a girl like you.” His new girlfriend was the embodiment of everything that a “guy like that” would want in a girlfriend and future wife. And the exact opposite of me.
I’m still amazed at how much I let my insecurities run rampant in my mind and completely take control of my emotions, feelings, thoughts and actions. At times, I felt like I was outside of my body watching another woman obsess and freak out. But, I also realized that my insecurities belonged solely to me. They were not produced by anything my ex-boyfriend did or said to me. I created them based on my own beliefs about how he perceived me. The issues with our relationship were very real but none of them had anything to do with my body. He never said anything to fuel or encourage my obsessive behavior or my feelings of insecurity. My actions and feelings were solely created by my haunted subconscious.
The lesson to learn, if any, is to trust in attraction and to become unflinchingly comfortable in your own skin. Just as it’s entirely possible for me to be as equally attracted to Kevin Garnett as I am to Benedict Cumberbatch (I know, I don’t get it either), it may be entirely possible to a skinny WASP from New England to be attracted to a thick-thighed black girl from Hayward, California. I’m still not truly convinced that I wasn’t merely the line item on my ex’s bucket list. But, my doubt is the unfortunate remnant of a deep-seeded subconscious perception that I’m trying to shake off. Maybe one day, I will be able to do just that.