Last year, we started hosting candid conversations with black women in our community, through which we explored their relationships with their bodies and the experiences that have shaped their perceptions of beauty and self. In this excerpt from our conversation, Amanda Holman speaks candidly about the power of words spoken over us, finding her voice, and finding freedom in self-acceptance.
What are some of your earliest memories or experiences that shaped your concept of beauty?
I have two older sisters. One has a different grade of hair than me and my other sister. I guess what they call “good hair.” My mother started giving us perms when I was about 6 or 7. She didn’t know what else to do with my hair. So I just thought my hair was nappy hair. She would always kind of refer back to my dad and say we got our hair from my dad, and that she didn’t know what to do with it. I could sense her frustration with my hair, so I took that on as well. I didn’t think that it was beautiful.
My dad never really affirmed who I was as a young girl. I don’t really remember hearing “You’re beautiful.” Even until this day, I don’t really get that affirmation.
I would say I learned a lot of lessons at school, but it was very weird because at school—in elementary school at least—I had a lot of boys that liked me. But … I don’t know how to say it … I was kind of curvy in elementary school, for a young girl. And then in middle school, it got kind of weird. In elementary school, I noticed that that was what boys liked. Your body. So I began to dislike what brought me so much attention, because it brought me bad attention. I would have to tell my mom about boys that were messing with me on the bus. I didn’t have my dad to go to about that, so a lot of times it would just continue to happen. That definitely shaped my sense of what I thought beauty to be—whatever the boys liked.
In elementary school...I had okay self esteem - as much as I could have, I guess. But I remember I would always take my sisters’ clothes and go to school and change before I got back on the bus. I didn’t like any of my clothes. I didn’t like how they fit me, or anything. I would always take—they’ll tell you to this day, they literally hated it [laughs]. I got so many whoopings for taking their clothes, but I never wanted to wear my own clothes. I always just wanted to be in someone else’s body, or just be someone else … Every single day I would do this. I would be so intentional about packing the outfit that I wanted, changing into it and getting back on the bus with my same outfit, like nothing ever changed. So I guess I learned early on to adapt to what other people wanted.
I always just wanted to be in someone else’s body, or just be someone else.
How has your image evolved over the years, with your self-esteem, the opinions of others, or your physical/mental/emotional health?
In high school, we didn’t have a lot of money, so I didn’t really have too many options. In middle school and high school, that was really tough for me. My friends would kind of pull away because I didn’t have the clothes that they had. So that was pretty tough for me. So I had to learn pretty early on not to identify with my clothes. I struggled with that all the way until I got out of high school and started working, to be able to buy those things. And I still kind of struggle with materialism if I’m not intentional about being aware of it, because I didn’t have it growing up. You know, if you didn’t have it growing up—you tend to go get it when you can on your own. So now I just like to keep it simple with my clothes. I still like to dress comfy and cute, but for the most part I’m not—materialism is not anything that I embrace these days.
What is one physical feature that you’ve struggled to embrace? What is one physical feature that you celebrate about yourself?
So a story about me, and it’s something I’ll be saying in this interview for maybe the second time, to anybody ever, probably. Most people don’t notice I have a scar on my hand from a surgery I had when I was born. I had a cyst on my hand. And it’s not a big deal to most people. They’re like, it just blends in with your hand mostly, you can’t even tell. But I’ve always noticed it, and it’s always made me really insecure. I literally will look at people’s hands all the time like I just wish I had normal hands. And that sounds stupid. But, to me, it was never that way. The Lord always brings me back to this whenever I’m feeling unworthy, or unloved. That this is not a sign of deformity, that it’s a mark. Like we all have that … what do they call it—
Like a thorn in your side?
Yeah. And for me, inwardly, I have a few thorns [laughs], but outwardly, this is my thorn because it keeps me humble in a lot of ways. It keeps me empathizing with people that don’t look the same as me, that have unique features as well, so I mean, really it’s been just a testimony of me being able to hear God’s voice. The mark that I once despised, that I’m still learning to embrace.
I still do, just, hide my hands a lot. And I’m a writer. Like the Lord was very intentional when He made me a writer. I can’t hide my hands. I write in front of people all the time. They don’t really notice, though, I just thought that it was funny that the Lord did that … I don’t think my parents ever recognized how tough that was for me. I think they just kind of were like—look you’re alive, we’re glad you’re alive. So we’re not worried about no mark. Obviously, they loved me, mark or not. But they didn’t realize how much it impacted my self-esteem.
How did your family, friends, past/current lovers, or other influential figures in your life shape your sense of self?
It’s funny because some things that people don’t say speak louder than what they do say. The things that my father didn’t say had a big impact on me. And the things that I saw my mother insecure about—which was her body, her stretch marks—I’ve always had stretch marks on the back of my calves for some reason. Well, I think it’s from after middle school, when I was going up and down in weight. So I was always kind of insecure about that. And just always hearing my mom talk about her stretch marks, that shaped how I felt about my body. How I felt about stretch marks … Words really impacted me when people didn’t know that they did, when they didn’t know I was listening, when they didn’t know I was comparing myself. Even my mom just talking about my skin not being like hers. She’s brown-skinned. I don’t know what experiences she’s had with light-skinned women … I just feel like a lot of the things she didn’t like about herself were projected on me.
I felt like I had to be louder to be heard, or be noticed. And the Lord was like, “You don’t have to, I see you.”
What were or are some pivotal moments + defining truths that have changed the way you see yourself?
Encountering Jesus changed me because His love is all-accepting. Knowing that He really did create me, He’s the Creator of all things. How can I not be accepted, when He accepts me? That truth changed a lot for me, and that’s really been healing for me. A lot of what I was doing and how I was acting was for other people to accept me, so knowing that Someone loved me and accepted me from the beginning—that helped me to really live it out. I was never created to meet the expectations of other people. God would never allow that. He loves me too much to allow me to believe a lie.
I don’t think people realize how important it is to just acknowledge someone’s voice. Because there have been a lot of times in my life where I felt like my voice just wasn’t acknowledged, and so I found myself using it for the wrong reasons. I felt like I had to be louder to be heard, or be noticed. And the Lord was like, “You don’t have to, I see you.”
I’m just really thankful for the Holy Spirit who reminds me: it’s okay to be fully woman. There’s strength in that. There’s beauty in who I created you to be, you don’t need to be more than that. If you needed to be more than that, I would give you more than that, but you are enough. That’s the truth that’s changed me: you are enough.
To learn more about this project or read our other interviews, click here. Then, join the conversation! Use the hashtags #aboutfaceproject and #blackgirlmiracle to share your own stories of beauty and becoming with us.