The Audacity to Be Loved

I am an unloved daughter. Heavy, I know. It hits you hard in the gut and knocks the breath right out of you. It’s a sad truth that has been with me for as long as I can remember and I am only just now taking ownership of its impact on my life.

I have never seen two individuals have more of a disdain for one another than my parents. They never stopped to consider how deeply their shared hatred of one another took precedence over the love they should have shown to me, their one and only daughter.

It would be serendipitous to say I was “borne from love”, but honestly,
I am not sure you can call what my parents did to conceive me, “lovemaking”. I never witnessed love emanate from my mother to my father (and vice versa) my entire thirty-five years on this Earth.

That said, it remains that I was indeed born on a day synonymous with that four-letter word — Valentine’s Day, the one day of the year when the presence of love (albeit usually in the form of flowers and candy) is inescapable. Ironically, there I came, making my way through the birth canal sometime before noon on a holiday that celebrates loving relationships, only to spend my childhood and adolescent years in a family devoid of any emotional connection.

If you asked my parents today about their love for me, they would fiercely defend themselves by claiming that they showed it through taking care of me. This “care” consisted of only meeting my physical needs such as shelter, food, and clothing. This type of upbringing based upon survival rather than love, is common within our community. With the demands of stressful yet underpaid jobs and maintaining their dignity in the face of daily inequities, many Black parents frequently reminded their children of the sacrifices they endured to provide for their families. From generation to generation, it is clear to see how the trials and tribulations of life in a racist society often left Black parents feeling depleted from fighting to survive in an unjust world and after making it through the day, the world did not leave them with much to give us.

In spite of these harsh realities, there were Black children like me who showed respect and gratitude for being taken care of, but still struggled with not having their emotional needs met. I was silenced and taught to be grateful for what I had, but, deep down, all I wanted was to be treasured instead of tolerated and I yearned for affection and acceptance. I never understood what I did to be treated so harshly by my own parents. I did what I was told. I never caused trouble or even demanded (at least not outwardly) to be loved better.

While most kids’ worst nightmare was for their parents to split up, I dreamt mine would divorce. Much of my childhood trauma came from witnessing my father abuse my mother. “Witness” feels like such a passive word for the actual experience. Even as a small child, I would try to intervene as if I could stop my father in his drunken rage. In response to his violence and mistreatment, my mother would often project her emotions onto me. I constantly lived in fear of what my father would do to her and what she would do to me.

Consequently, I spent most of my life hating my father for causing such discord in our home. As a child, I desperately wanted to disassociate myself from my father and his horrible actions. I used to think that my loyalty to my mother would somehow change how she treated me. That was wishful thinking.

As the years passed, it did not take long for me to learn that chubby, Black girls are not high up on the list when it comes to deciding who receives love and empathy. We are often taught that our bodies are problems to be solved and issues to be fixed before we can ever be deserving of love. These harmful messages came from everywhere — media, school, church, friends, and oftentimes our own families.

At home, my mother’s constant dissatisfaction with my weight and my skin tone reinforced all those lies I was fed to believe. On top of being lumped in with the sins of my father, my body’s inability to conform to my mother’s standards felt like another reason I was “unlovable.”
But I had to unlearn all that. I had to uproot all the lies that tried to settle in me as truths. I had to restructure my self-talk to now come from a place of love and not criticism. I had to realize that my parents’ incapacity to love me was no reflection of me and my worth as a human being.

I may never receive a sincere and honest apology from either of my parents, but I had to get to a point where I was okay with that. It is a journey I am still on. In the words of Oprah, what I know for sure is that growing up an “unloved daughter” was not my fault. For the longest time, I felt ashamed about how much my childhood still affected me as an adult, until I discovered that I was dealing with the effects of having a “mother wound” and a “father wound.” I was astonished at all the information and research on how deeply childhood trauma affects who we become as adults. I soon realized that I was not alone and that I had the power to heal those wounds.

Even when those chubby Black girls grow into fat, Black women, the world still tries to keep us low on that list of who deserves love, but we are more than deserving of all the love this world has to offer; all the pleasure, joy, happiness, peace, and comfort, too!

So often, fat, Black women are the ones who must be available for everyone else (also known as the “mammy” role) and settle for one-sided relationships and friendships. No longer! We reserve the right to be audacious when expressing how we want to be loved! Additionally, we do not have to reach a goal weight or “ideal” body shape to be worthy of love! We exist — that makes us worthy already!

Now, I am in the process of learning how to re-parent my inner child. This is a concept that takes some getting used to. Trauma is held not just in our minds, but in our bodies as well. It is not as simple as “letting go” and healing is a mind, body, and soul experience that happens repeatedly throughout our lives. This process has taught me to give myself grace as I learn.

More than ever, becoming a wise and loving parent to myself is what I strive towards. At the end of the day, self-love is of the utmost importance. bell hooks, considered by many to be an expert about love and who is now a great and beloved ancestor, sums this up perfectly: “One of the best guides on how to be self-loving is to give ourselves the love we are often dreaming about receiving from others.”

For nearly ten years, Brittany Cannon taught English Language Arts in the Mississippi public school system. Now, as Chief Program Officer for the non-profit, Ophelia’s Place, she is able to combine her experience in education with her passion for body liberation. Brittany has a passion for helping people identify and eradicate the oppressive belief systems targeted at our bodies. In her role as Lead Educator for The Every Body is Beautiful Project Digital Course, she brings a wealth of knowledge and insight about how people learn and connect with one another. Brittany has a deep love of educating others on topics that spark self-reflection and that generate actionable and systemic change. Follow Brittany on Twitter at @MrsCannonB.