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, Shannon Moore invites us on an intimate journey of healing in her body and soul, and learning to love the woman she was, is, and is becoming.
What are some of your earliest memories or experiences that shaped your concept of beauty?
My first memories with beauty definitely weren’t positive. When I think about it, I think about the movies and images that I saw on TV. Even when I did see black girls, they didn’t reflect what I looked like. I remember looking at my barbies and wanting straight hair like theirs. There was definitely a lot of shame around my hair growing up. There was just always this frustration with my hair, and even my mom doing my hair, and how traumatic that was—just long hours, crying, getting my hair done, hot iron sizzling, ears burnt to a crisp, yelling, and my head being tugged every-which-way. At the time, beauty was tied to my appearance, and to produce those results, I had to suffer.
How has your image evolved over the years, with your self-esteem, the opinions of others, or your physical/mental/emotional health?
During my junior year of college, I had [my friend] Nakya cut off a lot of my hair again. So I just grew it out without heat. That was my first big chop.
This was a season where I was celebrating my hair again, it was really different from childhood, and I wanted to experience my hair in its natural state—just let it grow. And it was really cool. But, during that time I was—this is so funny—I was working for an elected official here in Columbus, and I remember … it was a predominantly white space. I was the only black woman on the floor. I remember wearing my hair out one day, and [my boss] walked up to me and she started off with “You know I used to be a hair stylist, right?” And I was like yeah, I remember you mentioning that. And she was like “Your hair looks a lot more…” I don’t remember if she said professional, she just implied that it was better the way I usually wore it. I just remember being in shock, and kind of going through just this … I don’t know, just already having imposter syndrome being there, and just feeling like I needed to hide myself again.
I remember driving to work during that time, and like crying, because I wasn’t able to celebrate myself in that space. Like what the heck do I do with [my hair]? I don’t want to wear braids every day, but if I wear my curls it’s a distraction. Like, me existing is a distraction. And that was just like really hard having to deal with during that time. And during college, you’re trying to find yourself and embrace yourself. But at the same time, that discovery, and that journey is offensive to people. It makes them uncomfortable.
I just have to break out of something ... I feel like I have to do something very drastic to just smack fear in the face.
So I ended up straightening my hair again, and I wore it straight for a really long time, up until April 2018. I wasn’t able to afford going to the salon every two weeks anymore. So I was going to start having to do my hair again. And I made a decision to cut my hair off. I was joking throughout the year about that with some of my friends, and then I woke up one day, and I was like this is it. I’m not going to sleep again until my hair is all gone. And, it’s interesting because that year I was dealing with a lot of fear, and a lot of insecurities, and expectations from people and myself, about who I was and what I was called to do. And I was just in that space again of like not being able to show up as Shannon, but as all these different masks. And I was also really, really unhealthy at the beginning of the year, so my hair was shedding and things like that.
So I went over to Nakya’s house, and I told her “I just have to break out of something, I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why I feel like this, but I have to break out. Just, I’ve got to do it, and I feel like I have to do something very drastic to just smack fear in the face. And to tell everyone to eff off. You don’t control me or my body.” And it was almost like this active resistance to the world. And to myself, the fears inside of myself. So me cutting my hair this time was definitely like this active resistance. And just this swing at everything that’s been trying to oppress me. So it was 11 o’clock at night when I went over there, and we like shaved all of my hair off. And, I loved it. I just finally felt like this is me, this is how I’m showing up: as Shannon. And you can’t look at me and say who you think I am anymore.
And that was interesting because, even in that, there were people who walked up to me the week after who—they were shocked, and they were men—and what got me was, they just walked up to me like “I’ve just really been trying to process your haircut, and I figured out. The Shannon with long hair is like congresswoman Shannon, and this is like activist Shannon.” I about lost it. I was like, did they just call me radical? You know like—what does THAT mean? [Laughs] Is it radical? Am I militant now? So just a lot to process, but I’ve never felt more beautiful in my life because, I was sincerely showing up as me.
What is one physical feature that you’ve struggled to embrace? What is one physical feature that you celebrate about yourself?
So there’s a lot of things, when it comes to our surface body image, but there’s this other part that just has to do with love, and self-love. There are a lot of conversations around self-care now. And, you know, at the end of 2016 I think a lot of my stress, and unknown depression and anxiety just began to catch up with me, and I was starting to get very ill. I was sick all the time. I mean, sick sick. I couldn’t walk because I would have these crazy flare ups in my legs. My skin tissue was inflamed. I would get these nodules all over my legs. And my digestive system wasn’t working—so to have a bowel movement was extremely painful every day. And I found a tumor in my breast, and just all these different things happening. In short, over the past few years I’ve just had to go on this deep journey of inner healing and self-love, and protecting my body, and loving my body, and having to nurture it back to life. And not sacrifice everything I am for people. And it was a really scary time, because I felt like my body was rejecting me. It was just a scary space to be in. To not have any control anymore. And even going through other stuff—I had to get two surgeries on my breast, and now I’m processing body image around that and getting reconstructive surgery this month. What does that mean and look like?
See beauty, not mangled.
After the second surgery, when they took the bandages off, I’m looking in the mirror like What the heck did y’all do? It was really hard, because I never realized...I don’t think I’d ever really struggled with my body—like the shape of it, the feel of it, the texture of it. I had never really struggled with it. I’ve always really enjoyed it. And just, the surgery, and the change of it—I almost had a whole panic attack when they took the bandages off.
That time was just a really sensitive time, because outside of the tumor, I just felt like … I never really took the time or space to care for my inner being. It was just something I always neglected because I’m really good with masks. People always talk about how diplomatic I can be, because I can pull it all the way together. You wouldn’t even know everything was breaking loose, you know. So, I’m having to get all these surgeries, but I felt like my soul was under construction at the same time too. And I was having to deal with stuff that I hated about myself.
I have a really close aunt who found a lump in her breast at the same time, but hers was breast cancer. We had our surgeries and everything on the same day. We got really close last year, and I remember when she took her bandages off, she showed it to me and she looked at me and said: “See beauty, not mangled.” And that has always stuck with me, to my core. We were going through this transition with our bodies, and trying to love—you know, she had a double mastectomy, and I had a lumpectomy—and having to look at yourself in the mirror and say beauty, not mangled. And just since then, I’ve just had to love what was going on with my body. Being okay with a lot of things with my body right now. Knowing that there’s so much that I love about it, and things change—and having to re-love it.
What were or are some pivotal moments + defining truths that have changed the way you see yourself?
There was one morning that I woke up that I remember being the most painful. And I just remember being tired, and just afraid and really frustrated with myself, because I thought maybe I did something for this to happen to me. So I remember that one morning, I got up and I had to go to the bathroom, but it hurt just so much to stand up, and I remember I just started worshipping the Lord. I just remember crying, so frustrated and just hated everything about myself because nothing was working properly. I was unhealthy emotionally and mentally—like, nothing was going right. Just unsatisfied—and that season I made a decision to start taking care of myself: mind, body, and soul. And during that time of processing and getting plans together to just pay attention to Shannon and nurture Shannon...there’s a statement I kept hearing in my spirit a lot last year, and it’s: “I’m giving myself permission to love the woman I was, to love the woman I am today, and to love the woman I am becoming.”
Sometimes we just focus on the future—like I’m going to love the woman I’m gonna become, but we can’t love ourselves in the moment, and we definitely hate who we were in the past. And, I hated so much of who I was, even after Christ. When I would reflect on the past three years there was so much I hated that I did, things I was so upset I said to people, just things I really hated about myself when I reflected back on that. And it’s like, ok, I’m gonna love that woman too. I’m gonna love her. I’m gonna love the Shannon yesterday, the Shannon that was really tripping last week—I love her. I love her so much. I love who I am right now in this present moment. And I love who I am becoming.
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.