Beauty is the way my grandfather loves me unconditionally...

BY : Nicole Mckenzie   

BY : Nicole Mckenzie


Where exactly do I begin? Let’s start with a story, it’s not all fun but I assure if you don’t give up it gets better. When I was younger I’d always hear adults say ‘what a pretty little black girl’ (I’m a fantastic shade of brown chocolate)! My sister would get ‘what a pretty little red skin girl.’ I’m not sure how or why but we both had enough intelligence to realize that the specification of our colors meant we were not the norm for our complexions. I was confused because I was pretty for a dark skin girl and my sister ‘thought she was better than others because she light skin’ yet I knew my sister to be very private and selective with her company. Yes, growing up on the island of Jamaica had its quirks. Like, walking into stores even though I was older they would speak to my sister first and I knew why. But in our community the Rastafarian men would see him and give a nod of acknowledgement and me as ‘Empress!’ For men on the island, greeting women with the term empress especially so young means they know you are and will be a woman of high esteem when you’re older. It’s also a term used to build the self esteem of young girls who may not so easily know who they are.



Skip forward to puberty, and I literally woke up one morning, had two large nipples, got a training bra and that was it! No hips, nothing! So now I had to be kinda pretty for a dark skin girl, no hips, no breasts and lanky. One day I woke up and my left breast was hard, painful and much bigger than the right. I’d noticed the lump for a few weeks but it got big so fast I knew something was wrong. My grandmother took me to the hospital and the doctor examined me, felt my painful 14 year old breast, scheduled an X-ray then the surgery all in less than a month.


One day I wake up from surgery and he looks at me and said ‘we got all of it but there was a spot on the tumor so we are going to monitor you for a few months and make sure nothing spread.’ I knew what cancer was, I’d lost my great-granny to it so I knew what it could do. I began to pray. Here begins my dislike of the ugly scar around my nipple. The surgeon was nice enough to cut around the nipple. He said no one would notice, but I did. It’s bad enough I’m stuck in a 32b now they’ve gotta be lopsided. Yeesh, Lord gimme a break. I don’t think I need to explain the insecurity this triggered. Let’s move on.


Skip to 16 years old. I move to America to live with my father. One night I wake up and his fingers are inside me. His apology included something about me being beautiful and understanding him. The narcissistic abuser manipulation rhetoric. His included brushing my hair at times and telling me I was beautiful. Here begins my obsession with makeup. Makeup was my attempt at changing how I look, maybe if I looked different he’d leave me alone. Maybe if I kept my room messy, kept my books on my bed. Maybe if I wore multiple layers of clothes I’d not look so pretty. I’d still get compliments and I’d still feel dirty.  That changed nothing, the abuse continued and I attempted suicide and I graduated Vice President of the National honor society, member of the academic decathlon. I mean come on beauty and brains what can I say? (This is my healed self having a proud moment, stick with me. It took me years to heal so as I write this I’m giving my 18 year old self a round of applause for being so strong.)


Sounds like a horror story but I promise you it gets better. I start a local college and it helps me to crave freedom more, so I get out of my father’s house. Finally snapped and told my stepmother about the abuse. I find a therapist and 6 months later a boyfriend. Here begins the purging of my wounds. I’m emotionally detached, depressed, insecure, driven, humble, confident! Yes I was outwardly surviving but inside I was slowly wishing to just die. My boyfriend would sit with me in the corner when I had a panic attack, hug me when I woke from nightmares screaming, then he’d openly flirt with other women and ask me ‘you think you’re talking to your father?’ Yup, classic toxic relationship but all the while I had therapy twice a week for 2 hours! Seriously! She helped me put in work! Thank you Dr.Patti. I became the face of Girlthrive Inc and I grew stronger! So I decided to reclaim myself.


Here begins the part where I reclaim my sexuality and my body and mind! Here is where I truly began! I sought ways of overcoming fears. I lit candles in the bathroom and soaked in the tub, I shaved my head as a sign that I control every part of me! I changed my name! My name precedes me and only I will decide what name I am known by. Sperm donors do not get an opportunity to name their children and I choose the name they will use when they record my history. I hung mirrors in my home! Yes I used to avoid the mirror! I threw away my makeup! I upgraded my wardrobe! I spoke out loud and proud! I practiced walking with my head held high! I grew closer to my siblings! I slowly let people into my life! I got a tattoo! The boyfriend dumped me, I refused to take him back! I graduated college! I got my nursing license! I worked way too much! I fell in love! I travelled! I had my heartbroken! I cried myself to sleep! I spent a birthday crying on my bed with four of my closest friends huddled around me. I inspired countless women to live their truth! I ate, I gained weight! The extra bra size wasn’t what I thought it would be so I lost weight! I healed and I fell in love with ME.


So what is beauty to me? Beauty is my life. I’ve loved and I’ve lost. I’ve been used and abused and I’m sure I’ve hurt some people along the way but now I get fascinated by the moon. I swoon at a night stargazing with those I love. I get excited when my partner holds my hands. Beauty is my ability to push pass my fears and live in the moment and enjoy his fresh scent in silence. I am fascinated by the way his eyes sparkle when he gets excited. Beauty is ability to remain open to growth even when I can see he’s filled with dread. Beauty to me is the delight in a child’s eyes when they see their parent witnessed them getting it right after 10 tries. Beauty is my best friend gathering the courage to propose to his boyfriend. Beauty is watching my friend have her heart broken as we are going on vacation but she pushes through to come out victorious on the other end. Beauty is my sister losing her fiancé mid pregnancy but finding inner strength to wake up daily and raise her little girl. Beauty is my mother not knowing how to comfort me, so she cooks and cleans and sits in silence by my bed. Beauty is my brother going to college and doing poetry slam, tries new things and falls in love with himself as well.


Beauty is the way my grandfather loves me unconditionally. The way he worried more about me than himself when he was diagnosed with cancer. His love for me outweighed the threat of possible death. Beauty is the way he forgets his birthday but remembers mine, it’s the same day, but he’d rather celebrate me instead. Beauty is the sound of the birds when I wake, it’s the soft snore by my side. The twinkle in my nieces’ eyes. The glee in my siblings’ voices. Beauty is the sunset on the beach, with family by your side. A fall day when the leaves are changing, hot cocoa, your lover and a long drive.  Beauty is me when I walk by a mirror at 3 am, no makeup, messy hair, raw vulnerability, fear of heartbreak, faith in love, faith in God, trust in me.


Ultimately that’s it! Beauty is my ability to trust that no matter what I look like, where I go, who I am with, where I came from, beauty is knowing I can always count on me. Beauty is sitting in an empty room, nothing but a chair, the wind, me, my inner strength and a great awareness of Divine peace. Beauty is the thing within me that anchors me in the midst of all my storms. Beauty is my refusal to live between my hat and my heals. Beauty is the way I turn my famine into fortune. Beauty is the compliment I get that reminds me that I don’t look like where I’m coming from. Beauty is the thing that ultimately can never truly be restricted by whatever one defines.


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