Along with buying a fancy gown, a bathing suit, other dresses and shoes to fit each outfit change, every Miss Buffalo contestant had to raise at least $100 dollars for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals to be in the show. The Children’s Miracle Network is an organization partnered with Miss America that collects funds for hospitals in need of new equipment or towards medical research. In order to raise the dollars, I thought it would be cool to host a bake sale at work!
On the night that I greased the pans, it was Valentine’s Day weekend. I was single, lonely and regrettably jealous of my friends’ romantic escapades so I locked myself up like Martha Stewart and got to baking. While all 200 of my precious little sugar lumps browned in the oven, I scrubbed the dishes then sat down scroll through Facebook. Each swipe was like a silent sigh of bitter boredom. Another bouquet of roses. More chocolates. More people kissing…
Then one status caught my attention. It was a mini essay my friend Carol had written about the commercialized nature of Valentine’s Day and the Western definition of love. Here I was thinking that I had finally found something that I could commiserate with, but actually Carol had hit upon something much deeper.
She talked about how in her mother’s language, Igbo, there is no literal translation of the English, “I love you.” She would say, “Ahuru m gi n’anya” which means, “I see you with my eyes.” It’s about truly seeing somebody for who they are and fully acknowledging their being. To her, that connection is less superficial than the romantic signs of affection we see in the Hollywood flicks—that common trope of the prince on a white stallion sweeping the princess off of her feet.
We put so much pressure on having that sort of love and showing it publicly (especially on Valentine’s Day) that we forget about the other relationships in our lives that strengthen and challenge us—and we forget to be gentle with ourselves.
I wish you love outside of romance and all the overhyped concerns about it. I wish you love from [a] community that uplifts you; unconditional love from chosen and unchosen family that sustains you; platonic love that validates you. Most of all I wish you self love, a kind of love that I, and perhaps most people, struggle with the most. I hope you see yourself and embrace yourself as clearly as all of the different peoples that care about you.
Ahuru m gi n’anya. Happy belated Valentine’s Day <3
Immediately I was smacked out of my drudgery and bewildered by the truth in her words. I was working at my old prep school at the time, and there was hardly a day of walking down those halls that I wouldn’t think about how unhappy I was as a teenager. I was the only black girl at school and felt like no man (especially a white man) would desire me. Multiply that by hormones and the whiney punk rock blaring out of my Walkman and you might understand.
High school is a tough time for most people. Many kids lack the self-confidence that sustains happiness. But I wondered if I could make life a bit easier for my students and boost that confidence—if only for a day.
I went to school with all of my cookies. I set up shop and placed two poster-boards on easels with a bunch of markers. Then I went to morning meeting, made an announcement about the bake sale and shared Carol’s story with the entire school.
“Now I know you might think this is weird. You’ll probably want to buy a cookie and just bounce, but I’d like you to humor me a little bit with this exercise.” I explained to them that on each poster-board I had written “I am beautiful because…” and they were free to finish the sentence with whatever they loved about themselves or their life. The kids didn’t seem super thrilled about the idea. Perhaps the game seemed rather conceited or selfish. But it takes a healthy ego to be selfless—how hard is it to give when you are not whole?
At first I was afraid that the students wouldn’t participate, but slowly but surely the project exploded and students were running out of room to write their responses. Many of them were indeed uncomfortable and didn’t always know what to write. But when someone drew a blank it was cool to see their friends write for them.
“Anna, you have a great laugh,” one girl would say to another.
“Have I ever told you I liked your eyebrows?”
One kid wrote: “I’m beautiful because my mom said so.” Jokes aside, the responses were overwhelmingly touching. Even teachers and cafeteria staff members made their way over to reflect.
One of my favorite responses was: “I am beautiful because I breathe.”