Joy Bryant: All I Dreamed About Hearing As A Young Girl Was That I Was Beautiful
The journey to self-love begins as a child but far too many of us never actually reach that destination, even as adults. That’s the struggle Joy Bryant wrote about in a piece for Refinery 29 this week, simply titled: “Girl, You Beautiful.”
The lengthy essay relays the model and actress’s issues excepting her body as a young girl and, yes, even as a grown woman, and wastes no time getting to the meat of things. She begins:
No one ever told me I was beautiful when I was a young girl, even though it was all I dreamed about hearing. “Joy, you are beautiful,” the world would sing to me, and everything would be wonderful. Because if I was beautiful, I would be cool, and then people would love me! (Poor baby.)
Little did I know back then that it doesn’t matter what the world sings to you. Most of us are tone deaf anyway, and the world can be off-key.
Relaying how her mother was “too busy being pretty to really give a damn” about her, Bryant said education became her ticket to success. And even though she was routinely told, “You are smart,” the wasn’t the compliment she wanted to hear.
If I could look the right way, then I would be a “somebody” instead of just “anybody,” or worse, a “nobody” she writes.
I grew up in the South Bronx, in a predominantly Black and Latino community filled with super fly beauties whose bodies defied gravity. I thought everyone looked better than me, dressed better than me, had cooler hair than me, was more “woman” than me. As if I even knew what a woman should be.
I just knew I hated me: I was too damn skinny and I wanted to be thicker.
I wanted titties, a–, flesh. I didn’t want to be no stinkin’ beanpole. I felt inadequate, out of place — and the world around me only confirmed my proportion distortion. Like my best friend’s mother telling me on a regular basis that I looked like a boy. Or that same best friend telling me I was lucky I was cute, or else no guys would ever talk to me because I was so bony. Or people telling me to put some meat on my bones. I wasn’t even in high school yet, but comments on my body, what it should look like, and whom it should please, were the norm.
But even when skinny was “in,” like when Bryant attended a prestigious New England boarding school full of girls equally troubled by their bodies or when she became a model, she still felt “out.”
I didn’t become a model because I was into fashion, she explains. I didn’t become a model because I was into art and photography. I became a model because it was a great opportunity to make money and see the world.
But, real talk, I wanted to model because it validated me.
It meant I was “legitimately” beautiful, perhaps even more beautiful than others. I got just what I always wanted: to be admired for what I looked like. Fuck being smart!
The world was singing my song, and I was gonna get up and dance for as long as it was on. If my grandmother were alive at the time, she would’ve told me to go clean out my ears and sit my ass down, because that song was nothing but noise.
Model Beautiful was very different from High School Beautiful. After being told for most of my life that I was too skinny, now I wasn’t skinny enough. And yeah, I was beautiful, but so was everyone else, and our beauty depended on who was looking and what was in style.
The same went for the acting world, which Bryant joined because she knew “acting was an art and actors are serious about their craft.” However, “Hollywood is some whole other sh-t,” she points out in explaining the feast or famine nature of the business built on rejection. ” I was good to go. Until I wasn’t.”
Having wind continuously blown into every orifice of your body is a dangerous thing. At some point that balloon on top of your shoulders is gonna pop. If it doesn’t on its own, there’ll be someone standing by with a pin waiting to help you out.
That pin appeared compliments of my mother, a woman whose talents and physical beauty were stunning, but whose emotional absence was soul-crushing. She wrote poetry, was a great dancer, and was one of the baddest bitches around. She was a Bronx beauty who could have had it all. But she made terrible choices, and most of my life was spent trying not to be like her because of those choices. That will never be me, I told myself. I thought I was better than her because I was making something of myself instead of relying on men to take care of me or relying on my beauty to…to win the world’s affections. Guess we had more in common than I thought.
It took my mother’s death in order for me to realize that we were in the same low-self-esteem boat, looking for love outside of ourselves, instead of within. She never found it.
I’m still searching. Thank god for therapy.
Check out Bryant’s full piece on Refinery 29. Can you relate to her experience?