Because I’m a mix of vain and humble, flawed and flawless, I both love and hate social media.
I’m not talking about Facebook. Nobody is on Facebook except your auntie and all of her auntie friends. The real vanity orgy is on Instagram. When I post a photo of myself on Instagram or say something clever that gets tons of hearts and LOLs, I feel like a queen with a nation of subjects supporting me.
Until they don’t.
That happened recently, and it shook me a bit. In February I went to the NAACP Image Awards, a great big celebration of all the dope and amazing things people of color are doing in this world—plus, it’s held during Black History Month. The second I found out I was going, I knew I wanted to wear an African-print gown because there’s literally no more opportune time to wear a gorgeous African-print gown than during Black History Month at the Image Awards.
I was beyond excited when my stylist, Marcy [Guevara-Prete], found a yellow and blue peacock-feather-print skirt and top with a keyhole neckline. It came from an Etsy store called Öfuurë that specializes in African-inspired looks. As soon as I put the outfit on and saw myself in the mirror, I knew it was my soul mate. (Yes, I called an outfit my soul mate. I’m single and over 30. If I want to settle down and live my life with an article of clothing, I can! Just be glad it’s not 75 cats.) I put 100 percent of my confidence into this gorgeous outfit. I wore it with gold hoop earrings and a big curly wig teased to look like an Afro.
When I got to the awards show and stepped onto the red carpet, you couldn’t tell me sh—! I felt gorgeous, and in that moment there was no convincing me otherwise. My pride and my entire heritage rested comfortably on my head as an invisible crown of straight-up righteousness. I comfortably, truly had zero f—s to give.
But toward the end of the night, I made the tactical error of checking my phone while sitting in a car on the way to an after-after-party. The Internet loved my dress. But then someone said they hated my hair. Oh.
I couldn’t just stop scrolling. Another person hated my hair. Then another. A few more. Uh-oh. A lot! I don’t usually give a f—! What’s happening? Where did all these f—s come from? Who let all of them in? Suddenly I’m drowning in them! My invisible righteous crown tumbled down and fell to the floor mat of that hired car.
I skipped the after-after-party and went straight home. The moment I got through the front door of my house, I unfastened my skirt and stepped out of it, leaving it to be dealt with the next morning. I walked into my bathroom, bottomless, and wiped my makeup off while listening to “This American Life.” My night was over.
It was not my finest hour. But with some sleep came some perspective. It was an Afro, you tasteless fools—it completed the look! I felt dope in it. And even though a moment of weakness made me go home, the comments hadn’t ruined my night. I ruined my night. Those people who hated my hair are invisible. They don’t really exist in my world. I exist. And I alone let them shape my reality.
In the days that followed, whenever I saw a picture of myself on the red carpet, I smiled. I felt beautiful and strong all over again. I’m glad I posted the photo. Ultimately, I like looking and feeling pretty for myself even more than I like pretending to be a queen with subjects. Negative comments don’t have to haunt me. When it comes to how I look, my opinion is the only one that counts.
Sidibe’s memoir, This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare, is available at Amazon.