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"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence." ~Frederick Douglass
LOVE LESSON: THE QUEST FOR AUTHENTICITY
Is Authentic Joy the Price of Having it All?
Gabrielle Union’s new BET series “Being Mary Jane” instantly tapped into the zeitgeist of the “plight” of successful, single, African American women. In case you missed it, BET aired a smart, well-produced, glossy pilot for the new series created by brilliant “Girlfriends” executive producer Mara Brock Akil. Like “Scandal,” the show tells the well-written story of a beautiful, high profile woman who makes success look damned good on the outside while her personal life is a hot, buttered mess.
After the movie-length pilot screened I had several love and life coaching clients say that “Being Mary Jane” was singing their song and telling their story. The show had only a couple of small misses but it wasn’t meant to be a documentary. It is supposed to be entertainment, as bleak as the prognosis is that it presented for the educated and still yearning. The story-line incorporated cultural touchstones such as the insane Psychology Today story about the supposed ugliness of African American women.
You, By the Numbers.
I tend to be wary of any show which quotes the false African American marriage statistic and seems to promote the “destined to die alone” story being presented to single black women. Those numbers omit the fact that black women tend to marry later and also cohabitate with life partners that may last longer than marriages without the benefit of jumping the broom. These women would show up as single on the US Census although they are not single at all.
As journalist Angela Stanley explains in the New York Times, the false number that “70 percent of black American women are single” refers only to women between the ages of 25 and 29. When you look at the same population over age 55, only 13 percent have never been married. No one ever quotes that number!
It is a fact, however, that highly educated women of any racial background face a shrinking pool of “marriageable men.” “Being Mary Jane” struck a chord because many of us can relate to the sentiment that we “followed all of the rules.” For some it has brought career success but personal desolation.
When it comes to what I call Modern Spinster Mythology, “Being Mary Jane” included the married with children bestie, the gay BFF, the booty calls, OPP and the trusty vibrator. All that was missing from the current singleton story was the pet cat and crying into Ben & Jerry’s. The baby lust, sperm stealing storyline may seem ridiculous to most of us (especially since MJ could easily afford adoption or a sperm bank) but maybe someone relates to it. This is all a canned idea of what your life might look like but it is not your life.
There are many obvious aspects of the show to cover in a love and self-esteem column, but let’s zoom in today on living and loving with authenticity.
Keeping it Real vs Authenticity.
Keep it real has long been a rallying cry in our communities even spawning humor-based memes like, “when keeping it real goes wrong.” However, this is not the realness that I mean when I say, “keep in authentic” instead. “Keep it real” tends to be used as a synonymous with “Keep it Black” which assumes that all people of African descent are a monolith that experience the same style of parenting, speaking, eating the same foods, see things culturally the same way, etc. People have shouted “keep it real” while upholding a credit card lifestyle based on someone else’s value system. This concept doesn’t allow that a black woman from Denver and a black woman from Alabama may have different worldviews.
Lack of authenticity is at its core a self-esteem crisis although it doesn’t appear to be so on the surface. You may have power at work or in your community but you lack authentic power if you’re not realIy being true to you.
On the TV show Mary Jane’s brother calls her out for changing her name from Pauline to the more commercial-sounding Mary Jane. A name change is not really a sign of living out of sync with who you are. People find personal power by renaming themselves in all cultures. An authenticity gap occurs when we are living a lie in any way. In a world where “reality” shows are scripted and “keeping it real” refers to someone’s else’s vision for your life, it makes sense that we’d be confused.
Inauthenticity & Living Lies.
Living a lie can take many forms. On the TV show when MJ opted to stay on the career success track rather than presenting a less popular but more meaningful story to her higher ups, that was living without authenticity. These moments in real life are soul-depleting. We go along to get along, smiling in church, people pleasing at home and work until there is nothing left of our true selves and our inner value system.
Keep it authentic means to thine own self be true. I started to think about living more authentically a couple of years ago when I was having drinks with tastemaker and fashion maven Bevy Smith at Tillman’s in Manhattan. I met Bevy, the host of Bravo’s hilarious “Fashion Queens” when we hosted sister shows on BET J back in the days. Over cocktails, Bevy asked how old I was. I told her my phony TV birthdate, the one I had been rolling with since the ripe old age of 25, then immediately explained my real age. I had been taught since my very first internship that aging in media could hold me back, so I subtracted from my age and rolled with it.
“You’re still young. It’s just about to get good,”Bevy said. I explained to her that I had been always warned that being too old could prevent one from being hired even as a Lifestyle Journalist. “I just keep it authentic,” Bevy said. “And people hire me for being me.” Bevy offered advice on being genuinely me, explaining how if I tried to give what she called “Sister Girl like Vivica A. Fox” it obviously would not work because that’s not who I am. For example, Gabrielle Union and I are the same age in real life but her personal path has been totally different from mine.
Of course I already knew all of this. Heck, I was teaching it, but it was meaningful that a talented role model was affirming that it’s about walking in your truth. As a voluptuous, beautiful, chocolate brown, multi-platform personality and lifestyle guru, Bevy Smith cleared a path for me and others to do the same. She brainstormed with me about all of the industry people I should know because she is secure in herself personally and professionally.
Living authentically means being in tune with your source, tapping into who you came to this planet to be. There is no competition when you are living authentically because no one can be a better you than you.
Inauthenticity & The Mask.
There was the moment on “Being Mary Jane”we all knew too well; when Mary Jane put on “the mask.” The character was worried about her mother’s health, stressed about her unemployed and “entitled” family, and jilted by her lying, cheating man who she thought might be the one. Nonetheless, like all of us, when it came time to pretend to shine, she put on the face and the smile at work.
In 1896 Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote, “We wear the mask that grins and lies.” Today, many women can relate. We are stressed, depressed and well-dressed. We present the perfect face on the outside at work and PTA meetings while killing ourselves softly on the inside. As Dunbar put it, “with torn and bleeding hearts we smile.”
With social media it’s now easy to wear the mask both personally and professionally. People used to have to wait for Christmas cards or annual family newsletters to see the highlights and happy peer pictures. Now you only need to tune into Facebook for “Death by LOL.” It’s not healthy to compare your day-to-day life to someone’s highlight reel. You have no idea what is going on in anyone else’s life.
Single women are lusting over the lives of married women; married women are envying single women. We’re all forgetting to be grateful for the present moment. Whatever is going on in your life right now, you created it. You always have a choice to create something different.
Inauthenticity & The Impostor Syndrome.
As Sheryl Sandberg discusses in her business advice tome, “Lean In,” men feel more confident speaking up for themselves at work and asking for raises and promotions when they are not nearly as qualified as their female associates. One issue that many of us experience is Impostor Syndrome. This is the idea that we can’t let people get too close because if they saw who we really are, they would not want us. This can be a personal or professional issue. At its core is the idea of not being good enough professionally or desirable personally. This is a self love issue.
You are enough. When you are living and working with authenticity you know that you deserve all success you have. You operate with whole-hearted courage.
Inauthenticity & Survivor Guilt.
War survivors often have survivor guilt in common with those of us who have “made it out” of a less privileged background. This is the guilty feeling that you are betraying your group of tribe by leaving them behind. Survivors commit acts of self sabotage or keep themselves small in order to remain connected to the larger tribe. No one wants to be considered a sellout. Women feel more comfortable making themselves into martyrs rather than risking rejecting for success.
In one scene in the show, Mary Jane confronts her niece who keeps having kids and expecting her to subsidize her lifestyle. Survivor guilt leads us to enable others who may feel entitled to a “piece of the pie” of success although they may have had the same opportunities and skipped them. People around successful women play into this because it serves them to reinforce the idea that you just got lucky.
Inauthenticity & DWD: Dating While Desperate.
Real relationships require vulnerability. This is complicated for those of us who live our lives as superwomen. We forget that we’re human and so do the people in our lives. We hurt, we cry, we bleed and we deserve big, fat, juicy true love.
When we avoid feeling our feelings by numbing with work, distracting ourselves with meaningless sex, food, drugs or alcohol, or other love-sabotaging behaviors, we are hungry and empty. A man does not fall in love with your career or your sex skills. Your ideal partner will fall in love with your heart. It’s a gift to yourself and to him (present or future) to let down the gates and be vulnerable. If you’re seeking more, settling for booty calls will never lead to happiness. You deserve more.
- [Read: Is He Your Man or Your Son?]
The Real Deal.
The authentic you is a gift, to yourself and to the planet. Have the courage to be yourself. There’s a saying that we don’t find ourselves but create ourselves. I say that we also reveal ourselves. How lucky are those that get to experience the real you? You rock and it's about time that the world knows it. Consider retiring that game face for good.
THIS WEEK's HOMEWORK
Here’s how to move beyond a victim mentality in relationships and life. Address these questions in a notebook. You may want to form a Love School Playgroup with your friends to do these assignments. Take 5 deep, cleansing breaths to get centered and begin.
1. Who are you? People say be yourself and we wonder which self do they mean? Mother, friend, daughter, employer, employee? Make a list of your core values. What do you respect and require for a whole, happy, healthy life.
2. Invest in you. We can be focused on everyone else’s happiness, putting ourselves last on the to-do list. What is it you can do daily to show your love and appreciation for the real you.
3. Feel your feelings. Do you find yourself saying yes when you mean no and vice versa? Who would you be if you allowed yourself to feel all of the joy and pain that life brings? Instead of numbing or avoiding, practice leaning into what you really feel as a part of your journey to authenticity.
4. My mother would say that Solange Knowles is a “Don’t Care a Damn Pumpkin.” That is Guyanese-speak for a woman brazen enough to walk her own talk. She knows that people pleasing is a dead and useless art. Solange seems clearly in touch with her authentic self. This has nothing to do with her hair or way of dressing. It has everything to do with the idea that she is willing to risk being unpopular or making missteps by being herself. How can you care more for what you think than the opinions of others?
5. If you’re facing an authenticity crisis you are disconnected from your source. Are you operating from love or fear? This is a good question to ask anytime you feel like you may be betraying yourself. You can make small shifts to acknowledge your value and worth at work and at home. Aim towards bliss, like a plant pointing toward the sun. Create a mission statement for your life and go from there.
Passionate Living Coach Abiola Abrams gives extraordinary women inspiring advice on healthy relationships, evolved sexuality and getting the love we deserve. You’ve seen her love interventions in magazines from Essence to JET and on shows from MTV’s “Made” to the CW Network’s “Bill Cunningham Show.” Find love class worksheets, advice videos, coaching, and more at “Abiola’s Love University.” Tweet @abiolaTV or #loveclass.