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Love Yourself!

What old messages might you have absorbed about yourself? Dr. Jeanne Porter King shows us how ingrained messages get in the way of loving ourselves.


Love Yourself!

By Dr. Jeanne Porter King

I received a reminder about self-love while I was in the studio of a photographer doing a photo shoot for new headshots for my publisher. Accompanied by a makeup artist and a young creative stylist, I was teamed up with the best for a successful photo shoot.

Lights, camera, action. Look this way. Stand this way. Weight on this leg. Hold your hands like this. I followed the photographer’s lead, smiled, and looked right into the camera. Shot after shot.

Indeed, all was going well until the photographer said, “Now, no smile.”

For a quick moment, I panicked inside and thought, “But I have to smile; my lips are too full not to.”

I tried to comply. I closed my lips and looked into the camera. Yet, my makeup artist noted a dissonance: “You’re still trying to smile.”

Again, he persisted, “Now, no smile. Use your eyes.” And just like that, I settled into a serious look, lips closed, without the slightest bit of a smile peering through.

I’ve been thinking back to that moment in the photo shoot. And as I prayed and reflected on that moment, the Holy Spirit brought back messages I had been given down through the years that caused me to doubt the beauty of my lips.

Harmful Messages

First, I remembered a segment on a talk show years ago in which the host had women of various races take pictures smiling and without smiling. Then a so-called guest expert opined that Black women were deemed less attractive when they didn’t smile. Harmful message.

Next, I recalled a male cousin telling me, “Black women with full lips like yours shouldn’t wear red lipstick.” He spoke with a tone of authority. Ironically, I thought I had dismissed them, but his words must have lodged deep into the recesses of my mind.

Throughout our lives, we have received messages that settle into our spirits and cause us to doubt ourselves. These internalized messages create moments of internal conflict in which we try to project confidence with our actions yet feel insecure.

It may be skin tone for some of us. It may be hair texture or length for others. For some, it may be messages about our weight, body size, or shape. Consequently, these messages get ingrained in our brains and we get programmed to think of ourselves in a less-than-positive light. And these thoughts lead to feelings about ourselves that for some take a lifetime to sort through and shift.

These messages that cause women like me, Black women, to doubt our own beauty are false. They are lies rooted in a racist, misogynist narrative that attempts to make whiteness and European beauty standards supreme.

Toni Morrison, in her novel Beloved, described Baby Suggs, an “unchurched preacher” who, in warm weather, preached outdoors in a place in the woods called the Clearing. The community of enslaved people gathered to hear her—women, men, and children. And she proclaimed to them a message of love of self and of community.

“Here,’ she said, "in this here place, we flesh.” She continued, “Love it. Love it hard. Yonder, they do not love your flesh.” Starting with the eyes, then the hands, she described how “them out there” would try to destroy their body parts in an effort to destroy their souls.

Then she continued, whether an eye or a hand, “You got to love it, you!”

And here’s the part that spoke to me this time: “And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth… No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it.”

Baby Suggs taught them the importance of loving their flesh by touching, holding, and caressing their flesh. She showed them the significance of resting and dancing. As I reread that section of Beloved, I touched my lips, taking in all their fullness. I must say affirming my lips in that way brought a smile to my face—this time not from an effort to hide the fullness of my mouth. This time my smile emanated from a place of contentment and self-acceptance.

With that gentle touch, I reminded myself that from these full lips, I speak messages full of hope and love. With these full lips, I share kisses that touch my loved ones deeply. From these full lips flow words of praise and adoration for the One who created me and fashioned every part of my being.

Take a moment and lay your hands on yourself. Touch your face, eyes, nose, lips, legs, and feet. Touch your hair and appreciate its texture. Celebrate your distinct hue. Then praise God for you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14, NKJV).

Photography by Jason McCoy.

Dr. Jeanne Porter King is an author, business leader, inspirational teacher and speaker, ministry leader, and board-certified coach. Dr. Jeanne is the Founder and President of TransPorter Group Inc, a consulting practice specializing in leadership development, and diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy and training. Dr. Jeanne has developed global leadership programs and has trained and coached leaders in twenty different countries. Dr. Jeanne received both Bachelor and Master of Science degrees from The Ohio State University, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from McCormick Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Organizational Communication from Ohio University. Her book is Leading Well: A Black Woman’s Guide to Wholistic, Barrier-Breaking Leadership. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter/X.


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