Photo credit: Katelyn Shufelt Photography
I have always loved to read. Here’s the thing, I know that I am not alone in this love. A love to read may have brought you to this essay, and it is the thing that binds us all. My love began the way love often does, on a warm afternoon and all at once. I won’t bore you with the age-appropriate books that made me love the craft of books, though they were often about young girls on adventures, solving mysteries, or falling in love. Instead, the work of Nora Roberts
, Sidney Sheldon
, and James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet’s Sundays at Tiffany’s
are the genre of books I want to touch on. These stories and these women — a ranch woman from Montana, a lawyer, and the daughter of a Broadway producer — were the women I rooted for long before I truly understood the intricacies of womanhood, when I was still too young to know exactly what I was reading but I read and read and read anyway.
These women were the pretty ones
before I knew what being a “pretty one” meant, and before I saw myself as one. As a young disabled black girl, these books taught me about desire. (No, not the desire these grown pretty white women were experiencing; I wasn’t blushing at the sex or the innuendo). I was hungry for the small moments: the lingering looks, the moments of secondhand embarrassment that forced me to close each book to catch my breath, and the long-awaited first kiss of the heroine and her love interest. I was hungry for their beauty, but on my black skin, and their often inexplicable light that pulled every person in a room to them. What I was hungriest for, though, long before and after I understood the romance I was reading, was a desire for a love and adventure of my own in tandem with my flaws, the way the women had both with theirs.
This hunger is important because even as I changed and grew as a person trying to find myself and my place in the world, my hunger for love, adventure, and a story worthy of a storybook never went away. In fact, I nurtured it, turned to books that kept me hungry for more, but they couldn’t work miracles. Let me back up and explain: always loving to read did not keep me from internalized self-hatred. Reading books outside of my age bracket and falling in love with the adventure of it all in the same way I fell in love with my age-appropriate books didn’t protect me from the harsh realities of the way the world saw me and the way I in turn saw myself. Looking back, I wish they were able to.
Reading books...didn’t protect me from the harsh realities of the way the world saw me and the way I in turn saw myself.
I have a mild form of cerebral palsy that impacts the right side of my body. I walk with a visible limp and have crooked fingers on my right hand. My lack of genuine and positive exposure to disability made me resent the fact that I was (and still am!) disabled. These feelings went on well into adulthood. I groaned and griped about existing in the world like I do because I thought it was wrong. After spending small moments ragging on myself for years, I developed an affection for the routine of the ragging; I basked in its familiarity.
These small moments, and their relationship to the books I loved to read, are messy and uneasy, but important. These small moments made me the writer I am today. I am still desperate for romantic stories, but they aren’t harmful in the way I once allowed them to be. Now, the adventures I once loved to read about seem like they can happen for me too.
At the age of 24, I had one of the most important revelations of my life thus far, the revelation of self-love. At the end of 2016, just after Christmas, I woke up and went into my bathroom with messy hair, morning breath, and sleep crust around my eyes. Still, in that moment I felt cute. I smiled at my reflection in the mirror and blew her a kiss. The next day, I went back to the mirror and said four things I like about myself to my reflection. After that day, I did it again and again and again. The four things became a revolution and the small moment of putting in the effort every day for months? The catalyst. What followed was a viral hashtag, more essays, articles, interviews, cover stories, photo shoots, and my very first book.
I have always loved to read. Reading is magical in the way it allows for small moments of self-reflection and growth. In the books I love, these pivotal moments manifest in a look, in the climax, during an argument, or just before the main character and the love interest get together. In my real life, they show up just before big moments of change and whether that change is good or bad, the small moments pull me through them. That’s what makes them magical too.
÷ ÷ ÷
is a journalist, freelance writer, and activist. She has written about living with cerebral palsy in Teen Vogue
, Catapult, Glamour
, Harper’s Bazaar
, and other publications. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the State University of New York at Fredonia and she has a love for popular culture and cheesecake. She lives in New York with her family. The Pretty One
is her first book.