I found body confidence after attending an HBCU

Each week the Honey newsletter includes a column from women and LGBTQ folks in the South, in collaboration with See Jane Write. This month it’s all about bodies and how they’ve carried us and helped us tell our stories. We’re always looking for more stories from you. Click here to learn more about how to get published.

By D. Green Joseph 

All my life I have been tall and skinny, though I prefer to say slender in stature.

As a toddler, I recall my parents correcting inquisitive strangers who always asked how old I was, assuming my age based on my height.  At five, I was as tall as some 7-year-olds.  In elementary school, it was standard practice to arrange students according to their height when heading to the auditorium.  How I wished they used last names, (mine was Green) because my height always landed me at the very end of the line, often behind the tallest boy. We all know, sometimes first-hand, how cruel and mean children can be. My early school years were hard enough to navigate without the added pressure of being a bit odd. I managed to acquire several nicknames: Skinny-Minnie, Slim-Jim, Jolly Green Giant, and Bird Legs to name a few.   

Thankfully, my parents, especially my mother, were the epitome of positivity. She never allowed me to look at my physical uniqueness as a burden. She constantly reminded me to square my shoulders and straighten my back.  At the dinner table, slouching was forbidden, and if caught, in unison my parents’ voices echoed, “Sit up straight!” Mom never let me fall victim to the criticism and name-calling but always instilled a sense of pride and confidence, reminding me that I was fine just as I was. It is easy to be confident around the ones who love you, but not so much in the face of adversity. 

To add insult to injury, middle school ache paired with transitioning from girlhood to young womanhood compounded my awkwardness. I felt like one tall, skinny mess. My figure emerged slowly and without any significant dimensions.  

Mom was an expert tailor and began making my clothes, not just clothes but designer Vogue pattern pieces. She had an eye for fashion and style, which helped rebuild my wavering confidence again. She also encouraged me to wear heels. My small, tall frame was now draped in one-of-a-kind outfits meticulously made just for me. It was here that I developed my sense of style and the name-calling stopped.   

At age 14, I enrolled in an all-girls Catholic High School. High school is where I developed genuine friendships, but it was also where dating, spring dances, and proms were notable events. These represented another hurdle for me to overcome. As comfortable as I was around my female schoolmates, when it came to boys and dating, I found myself emotionally back in elementary school and terrified at the thought of how boys would view me. Low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and not feeling pretty or enough resurfaced like a flood. 

My best friend at the time was a goddess. She was buxom, shapely with gorgeous legs and a matching outgoing personality, and I walked in her shadow.  She got all the attention, while I may have gotten a half-hearted, unenthusiastic “hey, slim.” She never made me feel inadequate or inferior; it was self-imposed and fueled by the boys who made me feel invisible. 

It wasn’t until my experiences at an HBCU in Georgia that my self-confidence re-emerged, this time by choosing me just as I was. One day I looked in the mirror and finally, confidently liked the person I saw. The woman in the mirror told me that I was regal, graceful and uniquely made, I believed her and it was transformative. I discovered a boldness I never had. I found myself now being pursued and even enjoyed dating. I even found my voice, one that could make people laugh. Who knew I had a personality? 

There was one guy in particular who expressed an interest and a real appreciation for the inner and outer me. He even found me sexy.

We married after graduation, started a family, and that once tall, skinny little girl wholeheartedly embraced her vertical stature and slimness with confidence, love, and gratitude. 

Green Joseph discovered the love of writing in high school and has been inspired to convey humor, encouragement and life experiences through the written word ever since. Joseph is a native of Washington, D.C., now living in Birmingham, Alabama and has co-authored several books: 1Word: Discover, Reflect and Connect with Words That Can Transform Your Life, Know Him (personal testimonies of relationships with God) and Praise Him (Meditations from the Psalms).

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