Pilates was not the “cake walk” I expected

I called up my friend, who is a very talented dancer, for a bit of advice. I wanted to know what kind of dance class would best limber up my very stiff and puffy body. “No doubt about it,” she said. “Pilates is the way to go. But, start off slow because – though it doesn’t feel like it at the time – your whole body is getting a workout. If you don’t feel it that night, you’ll feel it for sure the next day.” She spent about 15 minutes singing the praises of Pilates, and ultimately convinced me to give it a go. I hung up the phone and signed-up for a six-week class at a cute little yoga studio in my neighborhood.

The class started on a Tuesday at 7pm. I arrived at the studio with about five minutes to spare. I changed quickly in the sparsely decorated dressing room and ducked into the back of the class. I looked around. All types of people were in the room. There were a few women in their 50s, a pregnant woman, and several other women from mid-20s to mid-30s. When our instructor walked in, I was genuinely surprised. Her name was Julia and she was squarely in her 50s. I’m thinking to myself, if this old bag can do pilates, then I can certainly handle anything she can throw at me. I run, I sweat it out in Zumba … this Pilates thing is just a bunch of stretching.  It will be a piece of cake! To start the class, Julia explained her experience with Pilates. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” she says. I look at her hard… I’m thinking that after 25 years of doing this, her body should look A LOT better than it does. Maybe pilates won’t give me the kind of results I need to see…

Pie and lattes?! Sign me up!

“We’ll start with ‘The 100’,” she says.  “Turn onto your back and lie flat. Put your feet up into the air and your arms straight back. Now, with your feet in the air and arms straight back, lift your head up off the floor and flap your arms vigorously for a count of 100.” No sweat, I think. But, I don’t even get to her count of five before my head falls back to the ground with a thud. I see stars. I’m panting already. WTF?! This is not a good sign! “This is one of the basic warm-up moves in Pilates,” she is saying. Warm up?! If this is the warm-up, what’s the workout gonna be like?!

At this point, my arms are lying flat by my side and my head is lolling to the side like a ragdoll. I look up and Julia is standing over me. Her pink legwarmer is right by my mouth. From here it looks like cotton candy. I want to bite it off of her. “Are we having trouble here?” she asks. Um, I’m half dead, lady, so yeah… I’d say we’re having trouble! I want to scream. Instead, I say, “No, just taking a break,” and immediately raise my head (with strength that I get from where?) and start pumping my arms like a fiend. “It’s a little early for a break,” she says, shaking her head with a “tsk-tsk” look. “After you get rid of some of the… ‘bulk’… that you’re carrying and strengthen some of those muscles, you’ll be able to do this exercise without stopping,” she quips with a syrupy sweet (super-fake) smile. Man, eff you, too, I think. Just when I think that I can’t take another minute of “The 100”, Julia screams out “Two more!” with a glee that sounds slightly psychotic.

By the time the class ended and I made my beeline for the door, Julia had asked us to roll like a ball, suck in our stomachs so that our navels touched our spines, and to throw our legs over our heads. After I slipped out of my (very sweaty) Lycra and back into my street clothes, I headed for the reception desk. The young crunchy kid behind the desk was eating hummus and pita and chitty-chatting on the telephone. “Um, excuse me,” I say. She puts up one finger to tell me to hold on for a minute. I twirl my hair while I wait for her to wrap up her trite conversation. “Yes?” she says. Whatever happened to “how can I help you”? Kids these days, man! Anyway, I say, “What’s your refund policy?” She smiles a knowing smile and says, “After the first class, you are able to recover 90% of your tuition. Each additional class that you attend diminishes your refund by an additional 10%.” Hmmm… “I’d like a refund please,” I say quickly. We complete the transaction and I am out of the door. So much for this grand plan. That sh*t was HARD! I’m going back to Zumba! And, in the meantime, Miss Julia can kiss my “bulky”, fat, jiggly, arse.

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Balotelli, Smart, and Me: Racial Slurs Hurt (and they can also GET you hurt!)

I’m Black.  I haven’t shared my photo, but in case you had any doubts, I am a Black American woman.  Now I am very comfortable in my skin and I celebrate my identity.  I love being Black.  But my feelings about my identity have evolved over time.

I grew up in Washington, D.C., which is also known as Chocolate City.  But in the Maryland suburbs situated just outside of the city, which is where I grew up, there wasn’t much diversity in the 80s.  Often, I was the only black kid in my class.  It was never really an issue for me.  I always loved school and I thrived.  But I was also somewhat of a “mascot” at school.  I remember my mom commenting about how popular I was.  “When I walk into the school, everyone knows who I’m there to see.  They all know who you are,” she bragged.  Even as a child, I knew that I wasn’t popular because of my glowing personality (’cause it DID glow, even back then!).  When you’re the only black kid in the class and one of only a few in the entire school, you’re difficult to miss.  Of course everyone knew my name – I stuck out like a sore thumb.

It’s hard being the token black kid.  You wear the weight of the world on your shoulders.  You field ignorant questions, asked “innocently” and you’re not supposed to show anger or aggression in response; you’re just supposed to shrug it off and forgive the ignorance, pretending to be grateful that people want to learn more about what makes you different.  I’m sure some of the dumb sht*t people said was well intended, but as the old folk say: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions, so… there’s that.

I was in the second grade when I was called a nigger for the first time.  I was involved in a fierce game of kickball during recess.  I wanted to pitch, and this little boy with white blonde hair who had designated himself the “captain” of our team looked me in the face and said, “We don’t let niggers pitch.”

I was floored.

The boy, Vernon, was popular.  My best friend, also white, was his “girlfriend”.  When Vernon spit the slur at me, I ran to tell his grandmother, who volunteered at our school, and she let him have it.  I felt somewhat vindicated, but then I told my best friend how embarrassed I was that he’d said it.  I expected her to side with me, but she didn’t.  My world was rocked.  In addition to my embarrassment, I felt betrayed.  It was a sad day.

My parents were fitful when I reported the incident to them.  My father was unsurprised, but nevertheless wanted to kill the kid; my mother was shocked and devastated that I was dealing with such a heavy incident at such a young age.  She had hoped I would be protected from that ugly word for a little while longer.  It came before she was ready.  My feelings were hurt.  I cried.  But, surprisingly, I didn’t hate Vernon.  I was just confused as to why someone would dislike me because I looked different from them.

It’s been almost 30 years since that incident happened, but I remember it like it was yesterday.  I vividly see Vernon’s round face, his pale skin, colorless hair, and ice blue eyes staring at me with contempt when he called me the n-word.  I’m not hurt by it now, but then… then, I was devastated.  I recall quite clearly the feeling I had when he said the word.  It was as though I’d been punched in the gut.  I couldn’t breathe, then I felt hot, and finally I, literally, saw red. I’ve been called a nigger a few times since then, unfortunately, but none of the other incidents hurt quite like the first time.  Vernon popped my n-word cherry, so to speak. Thanks, kid.  Hooray.

So, that’s why I immediately felt like a knife had been driven deep into my chest, opening an old wound, when I saw the story about soccer player Mario Balotelli yesterday.  Balotelli, a striker for AC Milan whose parents are Ghanaian, was taunted with racial slurs by the opposing team’s fans.  Apparently, the slurs were so hurtful, this man broke down and sobbed on the sidelines.

Balotelli, reduced to tears after being reminded, in the worst way, that he is black. (via SportingNews)

Balotelli, reduced to tears after being reminded, in the worst way, that he is black, and that black is somehow a “bad” thing. (via SportingNews)

Now, who knows whether this incident was Balotelli’s first experience with racial slurs (although I doubt that he’s managed to escape other incidents during 20+ years on this Earth), but what we do know is that he was hurt enough to be reduced to tears on the field, which is MAJOR for an athlete since sportsmen are typically known for their bravado and masculinity, making such an emotional spectacle extremely rare.  Sure, he’s European and maybe they’re more in touch with their feelings than American athletes (I’m aware that this is a stereotype and major generalization, but just go with it), but this is obviously a big deal since it’s reached us across the pond.

Also this week, Marcus Smart, who plays basketball for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, was criticized for pushing a fan who called him – surprise, surprise – a nigger.  I’ve got to say, I’m never one to encourage physical altercations, but “nigger” is a fighting word, plain and simple.  If you are Black, if and when you hear it, you WILL be taken to another level and all bets will be off.   So, I freely admit that I do not fault Marcus Smart for reacting the way that he did.  He will now have to face consequences and criticism for his actions, but at the time, he did what he felt needed to be done. *tsk tsk* me if you want, but I can respect that and I can relate to it, too.  Had I been strong enough to fight Vernon back in the day, we’d have tussled.  Trust and believe.

Hours after the Balotelli incident occurred, there is now some question about whether the taunts were really the driving force behind his emotional outburst.  But regardless of whether the whole situation really brought a grown man to tears, why would the Napoli fans think it was okay to hurl racial epithets at someone anyway?  People deriding your differences instead of celebrating them are hurtful, especially when your differences center on your identity.  One cannot change being black, nor hide it (in most cases), and it’s particularly frustrating when people hate you for things beyond your control.  As such, racial epithets can cut like a knife.  They can break you down, and frustrate you enough to make you cry… or fight.  I get it, and 7-year-old me gets it, and I need for you to get it, too.

Dear White People (and others):

If you don’t want to face any potential repercussions, physical or otherwise, that you may experience as a result of using then n-word, then simply remove it from your vocabulary.  It’s never okay to use it.  Not even as a “joke”, not even in the heat of the moment, not even amongst friends, not even ever.  The “why” is irrelevant, please just don’t use it because we said so.

Regards,

Black Folk

People: Black folk, White folk, and other folk, please remember that words hurt.  Use your mouth to speak LIFE to each other, not to kill, steal, or destroy the self-worth of another human being.  Know that a word – ONE WORD – can reduce a grown man to tears.  And also know that if you use a (certain) word with the wrong person, it can also get your ass beat.  Take heed and govern yourselves accordingly.  Please.  Life is just too short.  Let’s be nice to each other while we’re here.

HAIR: 5 Tips for New (or Frustrated!) Naturals

I have been natural for almost five years.  In January of 2010 I decided to stop relaxing my hair. The last time I’d seen my natural hair was when I was 12. A full 19 years had passed since my hair had been allowed to just be. I had never considered that I could wear my hair natural.  I always thought it would be too kinky, dry, unruly, unprofessional to wear in public, and never thought I’d be able to swing it at work.  But in 2009, when I relocated to New York, I made two close friends and they both had natural hair that they completely ROCKED! Going natural was a HUGE decision for me. I was one of those women who had a standing appointment with my hairstylist for a relaxer touch-up every six weeks – without fail. But one day, inspired by my natural friends and the other fly naturals I’d encountered in NYC, at my standing appointment, I made the decision to just get a deep conditioning treatment in place of my relaxer.  My stylist was stunned, but she did what I asked.  Seven months later, after struggling with two textures for too long, I went in to the salon for a deep conditioner and chopped my hair off instead.  I’ve been natural ever since.  Looking back on it, I only have one regret: that I didn’t do it sooner.  I LOVE my kinks, curls, and coils (I have about a million textures going on in my hair)!

The natural hair thing is definitely a “journey” and I’ve learned so much along the way.  I have gone from a TWA (teeny-weeny afro) to a huge head of fluffy hair, and people often ask me how I did it.  I have so much to say about this aspect of my life that I could, literally, write a book about it, but – to start – here are a few tips aspiring naturals (or frustrated naturals) might find helpful:

1.    Develop a regimen that works for YOU.

A hair “regimen” is your own personal hair care procedure. The bad news is: when your hair is natural, it requires quite a bit of attention and care.  The good news is: simple is always better than complicated.  When I first went natural, I watched about 200 YouTube videos – tutorials, product reviews, regimen recaps, etc.  I’ll admit that the tutorials were helpful, but in the end, those vids turned me into a product junky.  If I could get back all the money I’ve spent on hair products over the years, I would be a rich woman.  Maybe there are some people who’ve got the discretionary income to drop a couple bills per month on hair products, but I don’t.  And if I’d been paid for all the time I’ve spent on my hair care, I could retire about 30 years early.  There could be some folks who have nothing better to do than sit around and play in their hair, but I do.  So, after A LOT of trial and error, I found a regimen that works for me.  It’s quick, and the products are simple and – best of all – cheap!  You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on your hair for it to look good. Following someone else’s regimen won’t necessarily solve your problems. You’ve just got to figure out your priorities, budget, and hair type and work around it until you find the thing that works for you.

2.    Be gentle.

On the natural hair journey, it’s important to be gentle to both your HAIR and YOURSELF.  If you want healthy hair, you should treat your hair as carefully as you’d treat your favorite silk blouse or most expensive cashmere sweater. Hair is a delicate fiber. If you don’t care for it properly, hair is prone to break, snag, etc., and you’ll have to be extremely careful with it if you want a healthy full head of hair. My advice is to be gentle with it.  Never brush or comb your hair when it’s completely dry. Cover it with something silky or satiny when you sleep.  Protect it when it’s cold outside. These are just a few things to consider when it comes to being gentle with your hair.  If you simply keep your hair protected, you’d be stunned at how much length you will retain and how quickly it will grow.  But the most important thing to remember on this journey is to be gentle with YOURSELF.  Patience is indeed, a virtue.  Your hair WILL grow, but don’t compare your growth to others.  Don’t get frustrated with yourself or your hair.  Your hair is an extension of yourself.  Embrace your hair and, in turn, embrace who YOU are.

3.    Remember that curls don’t come in a jar or bottle.

Once I finally nailed the regimen that works for me, I was stunned by the attention my hair got.  A day didn’t pass without me receiving a compliment from someone about my hair.  When my hair was relaxed and freshly done, I often received compliments on it.  It was so thick, people thought it was a wig!  But those compliments did not compare to what I heard from people about my natural hair.  Once, a woman on the subway turns to me  “I want my hair to look just like THAT,” she says while pointing at my wash and go.  “What did you do to get your hair that way?” she asked me.  I started to explain and she says, “Wait!” and pulls out a notebook.  She wrote down every word I said.  She wanted to know products and techniques.  I started off with this disclaimer: “I will tell you what I did, but I can’t promise your hair will look like this if you do it.”  My wash and go is mostly the result of my natural curls.  The products I use only enhance the curls and coils that I already have.  If you don’t have the same curls and coils, the products I used on my hair will not help you to get them. It took me awhile to understand this, but curls and coils don’t come in a bottle or a jar.  I mentioned before that I watched a TON of YouTube videos when I first went natural.  The reason I became a product junky is because every time I saw a video that made me envious of someone else’s hair texture, I went out and bought those products hoping my hair would turn out similarly.  But it didn’t.  My hair can only do what it was made to do and no potion in a bottle is going to change that.  The sooner you learn your hair’s texture and learn to love it instead of fighting against it, you’ll become a lot less frustrated with your natural hair.

4.    Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!

The key to healthy and beautiful natural hair is moisture.  When my hair was relaxed, I was terrified of water because I didn’t want my hair to revert.  What I’ve discovered since going natural is that my hair absolutely LOVES water.  I mean, it gets happy when the first drop hits it. So what do I do?  I use water-based products every day.  I also mist my hair everyday with a water/coconut oil spritz that I make myself.  My hair soaks it up!  Maybe your hair doesn’t need or want water everyday, but I would strongly suggest at least applying a water-based product to your hair at least a few times per week to quench those thirsty curls.  The more moisturized your hair is, the less likely it is to tangle and break, resulting in optimal length retention.  Moisture also makes your hair look healthier and feel healthier.  Bottom line, dry natural hair is simply no bueno.

5.    Werk it… with confidence!

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, figuring out your natural hair takes a lot of trial and error.  You will try things and they won’t work.  You will try some other things and they’ll be a success.  I promise you will have some bad hair days along the way.  But be gentle with yourself when this happens.  The wonderful thing about natural hair is that it’s a lot easier to play off a bad hair day.  Many times the public will be totally in the dark about your hair “fails”.  Your hair might not turn out the way you pictured it, but nobody else knows that… so just go with it!  You can try wraps, hair jewels, hats, headbands, scarves, chandelier earrings, makeup, etc., and they can all add that extra flair to your hair.  But the most important accessory of all is confidence!  No matter what your hair looks like on any given day, remember you are beautiful… and you better WERK!

DATING: I’m dating myself, and it’s the Best… Relationship… EVER! (Well, sorta.)

I am currently involved in the best relationship I’ve had in years. Why? Because I’m dating myself.

Well… I don’t actually take myself out on dates (much), but the person that I do the most for, take the best care of, spend the most time with, and get the most googly-eyed about happens to be yours truly.

Being single sucks. After being involved in several unhealthy relationships that went absolutely nowhere, I took some time off from dating to assess why all my relationships went from sugar to shit in 60 seconds or less. The guys were all very different from one another, and the circumstances behind the dissolution of each relationship were varied. This brought me to the sad realization that the only common denominator in these less than stellar relationships was me. So, I decided to get to know me better, to figure out what I did and did not want from a relationship, and what I could do to improve myself so that even if I was never involved in another romantic relationship with someone of the opposite sex, I’d still be happy with the woman I am.

Better than the next

Since I didn’t exactly have dudes busting down my door to wine and dine me, I had a lot of free time on my hands. So, I started reestablishing and strengthening relationships with family and friends. I read more books and articles, began watching TV shows my friends had been hyping, took up knitting, tried new recipes that I’d been holding onto for months, took myself out to some of the best restaurants in NYC, went to numerous happy hours and dinners with girlfriends (and a few guy friends), and even decided to hit the gym on a regular basis – something I had dreaded before. I started doing all the things I’d always TALKED about, but never got around to doing because I was so wrapped up in a man. After a few months, I discovered that my life was really enriched by all the new things I’d taken on. I really liked the woman that I had become and had picked up some new skills and a slimmer body along the way.

I’d love to tell you that this all change my perspective about dating. But you know what? Being single still sucked.

I live in New York City, the center of everything – fashion, publishing, music, theater, food, etc. – and, believe me, it’s as great as people make it out to be. Right before I left my hometown of DC to escape to Harlem in 2009, I felt I had completely exhausted the DC dating scene. Don’t get me wrong, DC is cosmopolitan, cultural, and cute, but when it comes to dating, DC is a small country town. In the months leading up to my relocation, three of my girlfriends started dating guys only to find out that I had already dated them! That might not seem like a big deal to you, but when you take into account that I haven’t dated many guys at all, the odds that I’d have overlapped with three of my girlfriends just seemed more pathetic than coincidental. I was excited to get to NYC and take up residence in Manhattan. Millions of people are crammed on this island. That means that I should just be able to basically walk outside and bump right into a good dating candidate, right?

Wrong.

There are several fundamental issues with dating in NYC. Here are a few (be mindful that this is not an comprehensive list):

1) When I moved here, I considered myself young, hip, fun, single and ready to mingle, and couldn’t wait to be moving and shaking among other young, hip, fun, single and ready to mingle people. The problem is that the NYC dating market is saturated with young, hip, fun singles, so it takes A LOT to stand out. And, let’s face it, I’m more “Girl Next Door” than I am “Cover Girl”, so I was at a disadvantage from jump. Because if there’s one thing that NYC has a lot of, it’s cover girls. Like real Cover Girls (after all, it is the Model Capital of the world). Hmph.

2) NYC is expensive. This makes dating hard for numerous reasons. First, people work really hard here just to make ends meet. Second, men come here to grind and stack a lot of paper, and that’s their singular focus. I can’t blame them, but that makes it harder for them to concentrate on dating. Plus, since – as we’ve established – NYC is expensive, some guys are reluctant to make the financial commitment dating requires. To have a decent night in NYC, you’re going to drop at least a Benjamin. To have a good night, you’d need twin Benjies. Who’s tryna do all that?!

3) It’s hard to meet people here. In smaller cities, if you’d like to hang out among a certain demographic, you know exactly where to go to find them. For instance, in DC, there are let’s say five hot places where you know people will be on a Friday or Saturday night. So, if you wanna hang out and meet people, then you know you need to go to one of those places. In NYC, there are so many freakin’ spots to hang, there’s never a critical mass of quality people in any one place. That makes it difficult to get access to the datable dudes unless you’re planning to meet someone at school, work, church, etc. And since I am oh so done with school, every man I work with is gay, and I am a trifling backslider that has barely set foot in a church in the last year, those places won’t work for me.

I wish I could say that being single doesn’t bother me, but the truth is that I want to get married. And even more importantly, I want to have babies (preferably after I get married – ain’t no babymamas over here). I need a partner who’s willing to live that dream with me and, unfortunately, he hasn’t come along yet. But, I’m still hopeful. Until then, I’ll keep picking up new hobbies, taking advantage of cultural opportunities, refining my cooking skills, and hitting the gym in an attempt to stand out among the Cover Girls. That way whenever HE comes along, he’ll just be a cherry on top of the already amazing life I have created for myself.

Black History: Gabby Douglas – Not just another annoying teenager

Today is February 1, which marks the start of Black History Month. Even Google came to the party, kicking off the celebration with a Google Doodle of Harriet Tubman on its homepage.  Woot!

Now, in my opinion, Black history should be celebrated and acknowledged 24/7/365, but I’m also okay with paying special attention to the contributions of black folk during the month of February. Of course black folk would be relegated to the shortest month of the year, but, hey, I’m going to make the most of it.  This month, I’ll be highlighting black folk who have made us proud.  I can’t promise I’ll write about someone every day this month or anything, but I’ll def share my thoughts on a handful of special people as the month progresses.

And, without further ado, I’m starting with Gabrielle Douglas a.k.a “The Flying Squirrel”. She might seem like an unlikely choice, but she’s on my mind because, tonight, The Gabby Douglas Story aired on Lifetime, followed by a documentary-style special about her family life. I was at home on a Saturday night, engaged in the arduous process of washing, deep-conditioning, and then 3-strand twisting Sasha (my hair). I saw someone post about the movie on Facebook and I had nothing else to occupy my time while I detangled and twisted, so I tuned in.

The movie was very… Lifetime-y. (If you’ve ever watched a Lifetime movie, then you know exactly what I mean by this.) That said, I was impressed. Not that Lifetime thought enough to make a movie about her (they make movies about all sorts of randos), but that they made an entire night out of her life story. That’s pretty dope. And her accomplishments are worth fussing over. She’s a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, having been the first American to win both the team and individual all-around gold at the same Olympics. She’s also the first African American or woman of color of any nationality to win the all-around. That’s a pretty big deal for anybody, but is especially impressive because she did it all by the age of 17. I know what I was doing when I was 17 and… well… it wasn’t that.

Gabby is a tiny little thing with a huge smile. When I watched her talking after she’d won the medal, it became very clear that she’s just a typical American teenager – she clearly had no media training in preparation for her instant celebrity. But that’s what was so refreshing about her. She’s just a regular kid who worked hard and her work ethic combined with her raw talent made her better than everyone else. In. The. World. Not too many people have had that kind of success. And that’s why I was stunned when the public started criticizing her for her hair. At the time, I found it unbelievable that anyone allow her hair to overshadow her performance at the Olympics. But people are dumb. And very, very superficial. I mean, here we go back to the politics of black hair.  This child was working her ass off on balance beams and bars and stuff and she was also expected to maintain a flawless hairdo in the process?  I mean, yes, her hair looked cray cray.

(No, actually, it doesn’t. *side eye*)

BUT… I know what my hair looks like after one of my halfhearted workouts, so I can only imagine how busted I’d look if I was working as hard as she did to win a gold medal at the freaking Olympics.  She showed them all, though, when she got herself a good (and expensive) weave.

Then she slayed in this:

Yassss! Gabby slays. Do you hear me?! SLAYS!

And, then, well… then, there wasn’t anything left to discuss other than her ability and she got the attention she deserved.  Like hanging with Barry and Shelly (the Obamas, duh!), and Mama Oprah.  Yes, lawd!

In the end, I’m proud of Gabby and what she’s accomplished. I regularly complain about how much I hate teenagers, but — would you look at that?! — here’s one I actually admire. His wonders never cease.  Bottom line, Gabby Douglas deserves shine.  She didn’t only make Black history, she made American history.  She actually seems like a reasonable role model for the next generation, and I’m excited to see what she does next.  Whatever it is, I pray that it won’t involve drugs, erratic behavior, or sex tapes.  *fingers crossed*