When I was a little girl, my mom moved us to a brand new country. I remember going to the beach there quite soon after the move, and recognizing that their idea of a beach was vastly different from the beaches I had known.
I’d asked my mom if I could go into the sea for a swim, which at my age meant stand in the water up to my stomach and splash it around. She agreed, but the fact that I’d just had my hair braided in preparation of my first day at a new school meant she had me wear a swimming cap before wading into the water. Like the happy child I was, that didn’t matter to me. I was just excited I’d be able to go swimming.
That was until I was taught for the first time how to be embarrassed.
Whilst I was playing in the water, a boy around the same age or maybe slightly older waded up to me and asked why I was wearing a swimming cap in the sea. Before I could even open my mouth to attempt a reply, he ended the conversation with “you’re weird.” And just like that, he was gone. The exchange, if you could call it that, lasted only seconds. Seconds; and yet it helped to shape the person I am today.
That day, I learned how to be embarrassed. That day was one of the saddest of my childhood.
I was already uncomfortable from being in a place where I was different, where more importantly everything was different to me. But though I was uncomfortable in my new surroundings, I had yet to learn any of lifes harsher lessons. I still had joy in my heart.
That joy was wiped away on the beach that day.
That boy knew nothing about me. He didn’t know my history or that I was already unsure of myself being in a new place. He probably will live his life never remembering his comment or me, not knowing that he helped to shape a person as much as any other parent or life-changing experience could. I was just a moment in his life, and yet he became the basis for mine.
He taught me how to be embarrassed. He taught me how to be unsure of and ashamed of myself. It took me years to finally go back to a beach and swim in the sea. I liked to swim in pools, but I’d always just sit on the sand whenever I went to a beach until my early teens. I wore my first bikini less than a year ago after two decades on this planet because I’d always been self conscious. Why? Because in my memory, the beach was a place of ridicule.
The beach was where I first learned how to be embarrassed, and the beach is where I first learned I had the potential to hate myself.
To some that moment would have passed and left them unscathed. But everyone has their trigger points at various points in their life. When I think upon all that I have endured throughout my life, it makes me sad that something so simple in comparison was so scarring. And then I remind myself; that naive child wasn’t as battle tested as grown Tiff is now.
I grew up as a humble child into a humble young woman not because I really understood its importance. I was humble because I didn’t believe I was better.
It’s easy to be meek and mild when you can’t see your value.
I took that bad experience and taught myself to hate myself.
Since this is not a political blog, I won’t get into all the racial prejudice that helped to fuel my self hatred. Black women haven’t exactly been celebrated for their beauty or worth in all the places a growing young woman would look to find encouragement, and so keeping that in mind I chose to make my title a line from a Malcom X speech that had always stuck with me. But when all is said and done, I can always trace the beginning of my devaluation back to that one moment.
That day I was shown a whip, and since then I’ve continued to flog myself.
But don’t fret, I’m making strides to heal myself. At this point, that’s all I can do.