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Your Women's Do-It-Yourself Self-Esteem Kit

“You may not get what you deserve in this life, but you’ll damn sure get what you settle for.”

My friend “Trevor”

I spent the weekend with one of my favorite female relatives, and she was recounting her horrible marriage to her ex, a much older man who, in my opinion, is worth more to the world decomposed than alive. That aside, she told me how he had called her his “retirement plan” because he had had no intention of working and had planned to live off of her, until she got wise and divorced him.

I asked her how she had gotten into such a sorry relationship to begin with. Her response: Lack of self-esteem.

Mothers (and fathers, for that matter), can you imagine how much heartache and pain you could spare your daughters if you sent them out into the world armed with self-esteem?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve got way too much self-esteem. Not the kind of self-esteem that would make me try to squeeze my size fourteen behind in a thong and size eight Daisy Dukes. I’m talking about the kind of self-esteem that gives me little if any patience for people who are trying to get over on me like my relative’s ex-husband tried to get over on her. Especially if they’re male.

I’m talking about the kind of self-esteem that made a professor at U.C. Berkeley make her diamond engagement ring from her ex-husband into a toe ring. In her view, wearing the ring on her toe symbolized that her ex was “beneath her.” That’s the kind of self-esteem I’m talking about.

When it comes to my self-esteem, to borrow a phrase from an Erykah Badu song, “I get it from my momma.”

My late mom, whom I have referred to in this blog as She Who Is Exalted, or SWIE, had self-esteem in spades. Like me, she didn’t always have it, but the mom I knew in her late thirties and forties is much like the woman I’ve become in my mid-forties. I know my worth, and I don’t settle for anything or anyone unworthy of me. Life’s too short. I’m sure if SWIE had known she was going to check out at age sixty-four, she would have adopted that attitude a lot earlier.

My mom gave as good as she got, checked my dad when he needed it (often), and let us kids know that she was the momma and we were the kids, period. Yes, she put up with a lot just because of us six kids, but she had her limits, and she was quick to let you know when you had reached them. Like she did with my poor aunt.

At some family gathering, one of my aunts made the mistake of saying something rather, well, unflattering about my oldest sister. My mom sprang into action. She gather up us kids and took us home. Then she went back and cussed her sister out for talking about one of her kids. Then she came home like nothing happened. We begged and pleaded for her to tell us what she said to our aunt, but she told us that it was none of our business. Mind you, she said this as calm as an assassin, standing in her customary position at the kitchen sink, peeling potatoes or something, her right leg bent at the knee and crossed behind her left. I don’t think she even looked up at us. She simply handled her momma business and got back to the task at hand – feeding her brood of six unruly children.

It was years before we found out she had called her sister a two dollar you-know-what (our other aunt told us). We were like, “Way to go, Mom!” We were proud that she had stood up for my sister and, in effect, us. Her response? “I’m not proud of that.”

That’s okay. We were.

So since SWIE isn’t here to share with you what I learned, here goes:

A woman with self-esteem stands up for her kids, but most important, stands up for herself.

A woman with self-esteem doesn’t stay in abusive relationships, be they verbally or physically abusive.

A woman with self-esteem knows her worth and doesn’t settle for anything less. She has no problem telling an exploitive employer, lover or husband to kiss her behind (more on that later).

A woman with self-esteem doesn’t wait for men to do things for her – she does things for herself.

A woman with self-esteem makes and manages her own money, and sometimes her husband’s money, too.

A woman with self-esteem stands up for other women and children who can’t stand up for themselves.

A woman with self-esteem doesn’t care what anyone – male or female – thinks of the clothes she wears or how she wears her hair, ‘cause she’s the one who paid for them.

Now that you’ve got some of the rules, here’s the women’s self-esteem playlist (to get your self-esteem mojo going) and SWIE’s self-esteem lexicon of phrases to go with it. (Warning: SWIE was prone to curse words, as am I, so I won’t edit at the risk of losing the essence of who we both were/are).


Ruth Brown, “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Sit On It”. Mind you, this song supposedly talks about furniture in a second-hand store. But with lyrics like, “If I can’t sell it, I’m gonna sit on it, ‘cause I ain’t gonna give it away,” you know what she’s really talking about. Takes a lot of self-esteem to sing those lyrics.

Aretha Franklin, “Respect.” No brainer. And Aretha didn’t always have self-esteem either. Chain of Fools, anyone?

Whitney Houston, “Step by Step” and “Greatest Love of All.” For the woman who is coming back from the abyss of self-doubt and moving toward self-esteem.

Anything by Millie Jackson. My mom used to say that Millie was downright nasty. Takes a lot of self-esteem to be a nasty woman.

Erykah Badu, "Tyrone." Both funny and empowering, especially the last line, "But you cain't use my phone."

Prince, “Little Red Corvette.” Okay, work with me on this. The lyrics include the verse, “I guess I should have closed my eyes when you brought me to the place where your horses run free; I got a little ill when I saw all pictures of the jockeys who’d been there before me.” Now, it takes a woman with a lot of self-esteem to not only have up photos of the prior “jockeys,” but to not care what the next jockey would think. You don’t have to be that woman; you only need to have her self-esteem.

Jill Scott, “Golden.” Then again, everything Jill does is golden.

India.Arie, “Talk To Her.” This song provides guidance on how you should expect people to talk to you or any woman for that matter: “When you talk to her, talk to her like you’d want somebody to talk to your momma . . . Don’t get smart with her, have a heart-to-heart with her just like you would with your daughter . . .”

And my favorite:

Leslie Gore, “You Don’t Own Me.” I first heard this song in the movie “The First Wives’ Club.” Gotta love these proto-feminist lyrics:

And don't tell me what to do
And don't tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don't put me on display, 'cause

You don't own me, don't try to change me in any way
You don't own me, don't tie me down 'cause I'd never stay

Okay, now that you have the playlist, here’s the lexicon of self-esteem phrases from SWIE:

1. When some man tries to tell you that you need him:

“I don’t need you. I was born by myself, and I’m gonna die by myself.”

2. When some man tries to make you think you need his money:

“I GOT a job. I make my OWN money. You don’t have shit that I can’t get.”

3. When some man expects way too much of you:

“Oh see, you just want too much sugar for a dime.”

4. When your husband gets on you about your spending:

“I made this money. I didn’t see you up on my job. Did I ask you to pay my bills? I didn’t ask you for shit.) (Substitutions: “a God damned thing” can be substituted for “shit” when appropriate)

5. When your kids try to get over on you:

“Oh, you must think I’m a fool. Ain’t nothing you can do or think of doing that I ain't already thought of.”

6. When you husband/lover threatens to leave you:

“Please. I got you; I can get another.”

7. When you’ve finally reached your limit – at work, at home, etc:

“Oh, see, you can kiss my PRETTY black ass.” (Now, that might not work as well for white women, but you get the point.)

Okay, ladies, copy these phrases in your new self-esteem notebook, tee up your IPod self-esteem playlist, and get to steppin’. My momma didn’t raise no fools, and now that you’ve read this, consider yourself raised. By SWIE.

As my friend “Trevor” pointed out to me once, “You may not get what you deserve in this life, but you’ll damned sure get what you settle for.”


Yasmin said…
You're just amazing...and I'm currently a big fan of SWIE. God rest her soul. And this blog just reassured everything I stand for. :D

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