After 28 years on this earth, I'm finally learning the importance of celebrating myself. A lot of people ask me why I'm so open on my blog about very personal issues. The truth is, I've lived so much of my life not loving myself, that now I take every opportunity I can to celebrate me; from the things I share on this blog, to my personal style, the way I wear my hair, how I choose to live my life and who I surround myself with. All of these things are a part of who I am, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
In my very first post, I shared a lot about the insecurities I’ve struggled with in my life. A lot of these insecurities stemmed from being a black girl living in white spaces. People have a very narrow view of what black women are "supposed" to be. Not only are we expected to conform to European standards of beauty, but we’re often characterized as having “too much attitude,” we’re hyper-sexualized in the media, and if we’re secure in our sexuality we are labeled as hoes and sluts. In the acting world we’re often limited to playing the “sassy” best friend, or the “sassy” co-worker, or the “sassy” security guard…ya get the point? If we speak up we’re told we complain too much and then we’re labeled the “angry black woman.” So basically we can be angry, sassy, or sexy.
Growing up in Seattle, I was none of these. I was shy, awkward and quiet. I wore glasses, I was chubby, and most of the time I walked around looking like a greaseball, because I used Aquaphor ointment for my eczema. The struggle was very real. Not only that, I went to a predominately white middle school and high school. Long story short, I spent a huge chunk of my formative years wishing I was different. Actually, I should say wishing I was the same as everyone else, because I was definitely different. Being the only black girl in my class from 6th grade to sophomore year, I couldn’t help but stand out. But sometimes standing out just makes you feel invisible.
I used to wish that my skin and eyes were lighter and my hair was straighter and longer. Everything that I saw from magazines, to TV and film, to the people in my real life who were deemed beautiful, taught me that European features were desirable. This didn’t only come from white people either. Black people constantly praised the light skinned mixed chicks with light eyes and long, loose, wavy hair. I used to beg my mom for a relaxer, but she never let that creamy crack touch a hair follicle on my head. Since she wouldn’t let me relax my hair, I tried to get it pressed EVERY chance I got, and every time in flew the compliments of, “you look so pretty with your hair straightened!” No wonder I had a complex. Black people! Stop telling this to our little girls. Please stop! I wanted a relaxer so bad, because I thought that was the only way I could be beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with straightening your hair. In fact, the most beautiful thing about black hair is that it’s so versatile, but make sure our little girls know that they’re beautiful with every hair style they wear! And make sure they know the way their hair grows out of their heads naturally is beautiful. I didn’t absolutely hate my hair, but the overwhelming response when it was straightened overshadowed any good feelings I had about it. Not to mention the white girls in school complaining about any semblance of frizz or volume on their heads. I used to watch in amazement as they painstakingly straightened their already straight hair everyday, multiple times a day, to eliminate every last bump, wave and curl in sight. Then I would walk away frustrated that they could accomplish the task in under 10 minutes when it took hours to wash, blow dry, and straighten my mane.
Middle school and high school consisted of me identifying as other; not understanding why I didn’t fit in, while simultaneously recognizing how different I was from my surroundings. I was constantly trying to assimilate to be accepted, to later realize that the “friends” I made didn’t care about me and could stop talking to me at the drop of a dime. I wanted SO badly to be popular, but eventually I realized that I was looking for my tribe in the wrong place. By sophomore year I found friends outside of school, and learned to stop trying to please my classmates to gain acceptance. The other side of the coin was that even though I didn't fit in, in predominately white spaces, I was low key afraid of black people.
I grew up in a black church, went to an extremely diverse elementary school, and participated in programs at predominately black community centers when I was younger, but being thrown into white spaces for so long changed me. I was afraid I didn’t know how to relate to black people anymore and that they would deem me as not black enough or too white. Little did I know I was projecting my insecurities onto other people’s perceived opinions of me.
The summer before my sophomore year I started doing the All Teen Summer Musical at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, a predominately black program. I was terrified. Will they like me? Will they think I’m cool? Will they think I’m pretty? My first year consisted of me combatting my shy ways and finding a few friends that I connected with. It also consisted of light teasing of the fact that I had no booty (Teasing that continues to this day. A black girl with no booty??? What?!?), four eyes jokes because of my glasses, and comments about my bushy eyebrows. Even still, by the end of the summer I felt more at home than I ever did at school.
This program was the start of me learning how to accept and love myself for who I was, even though I didn’t fit into the box society labeled for black girls. Going to Howard University furthered that journey even more for me. I had never seen such a diverse group of beautiful black people from all over the world in my life. It changed the way I viewed myself and black people as a whole. We can’t be put in a box. Those four years of undergrad were an eye opening experience that taught me that my differences made me a dope individual.
I always felt like I had to pick the type of person I needed to be and tried to control the way I was viewed. I attempted to hide the parts of myself that were undesirable or didn't fit into the facade I created, but finally I had to learn that I am who I am. I’m a work in progress, but I’ll be miserable trying to live up to everyone’s ideas of who I should be. As an actor, I’ve CONSTANTLY been told to know my type. This used to frustrate me to no end, because it felt like I was being limited and had to neglect major parts of myself in order to fit into a specific category. Frustrated with this idea, I ended my time at Howard University performing a cabaret I put together celebrating the various components of my personality titled, “Just Du Pree.” Hence the name of this blog *wink wink, nudge, nudge.* I was tired of containing who I was, so I finally started to celebrate all of the different qualities that make me who I am. This was the beginning of me learning that I don’t have to limit myself.
This mentality has not only affected my personal life for the better, but it’s taught me that professionally I can wear many hats. The teenager in high school who had to choose between sports, dance, the vocal program, and theatrical productions is jumping for joy right now. I don’t have to choose between being in front of or behind the camera. I can juggle theatre, film, writing and producing my own content, and running this blog. I’m still learning how to do it better, but the point is that I’m capable. When I was younger I just wanted to perform, but now I'm much more interested in telling my own stories rather than being hired to tell someone else’s. And I don’t have to be limited to musical theatre even though I was a musical theatre major! I can dabble in sketch comedy (Shameless plug. Check out my latest sketch below!)
The point is, I don’t have to fit into a box when it comes to my appearance, personality, or profession.
Society has so many stereotypes and limitations on who we can and can't be. To that I say, “forget you society and do you, boo!” We are so much more than how society paints us. Let’s learn to celebrate every part of who we are. Every. Single. Day. God made no mistakes when He made us, and I’m not trying to insult God by pretending to be something I’m not to please others. Been there, done that, it was an unsuccessful venture. So yes! I celebrate all parts of who I am, including my short comings and challenges. I don’t worry about covering my eczema flares with long sleeves and pants in the summer. It is what it is and I don’t have to be ashamed of it. I flaunt my hip-less, little bootied self in cute outfits when I go out cause who cares if I'm not curvy with a badonk-a-donk? Doesn’t mean I'm not black. And I rock my fro PROUDLY! I used to try so hard to contain and control her, but I've learned that she's better off doing what she wants. She deserves it. And you deserve to be happy and to love yourself exactly the way God made you. Let’s celebrate ourselves by being who we are 100 percent and not caring what people think! It’s the best way to live. I promise. Much love and until next time y’all!
I'm Lauren, aka Just Du Pree, and I want to thank you for reading. This is a space where I share my very personal journey healing from eczema and topical steroid withdrawal (among other things), life lessons I've learned along the way, and occasionally the thoughts of an awkward Black girl (no Issa Rae). I'm a performer and filmmaker, so if you feel so inclined, pop over here to see what goes on in my mind on the regular. If you like what you see, you can stay up to date with my work here. Much love, friends!