Asha Bandele: The Power of My Work
If you were to ask my friends back in high school, they would probably say I was one of the lucky ones. I had a face most people at least considered attractive, maybe even beautiful. And for much of my life I had an hourglass figure. But as 40 approached and my figure, um, filled out, I would look in the mirror and no longer see myself as sexy. Then one night that changed.
I was at a meeting in a small town with a group of young women who were reading from my most recent book, a memoir that discussed my history of depression and surviving abuse. After the gathering ended, one of the women approached me. She told me that while she was growing up, she had been told to shut up so often she just did it automatically. It felt good to hear someone give voice to how she felt inside, she said. We talked about all the things that kept us silent and shut down. She promised to speak out more from that day on. As she walked away, something came over me: I felt ignited, energized…yes, beautiful.
And the more I thought about that woman and our conversation, the more I realized that it wasn’t just those instances of bonding or appreciation at public readings that triggered my inner glow; it was my own solitary engagement with language. Writing requires us to take the world on more slowly, to notice its harshness as well as its richness. Writing reduces the chaos in my mind. As the gospel song says, it orders my steps and makes me feel in control of myself and therefore appreciative of the world.
Women don’t get enough credit for the amount of self we invest in our work. In the last year, watching some of the most talented women I know being laid off has been tough. Knowing that the work they loved―whether in finance, real estate, or writing―may be gone forever has been downright devastating, and their grief over this loss is boundless. "I feel like nothing, like I just want to disappear," said one brilliant friend. "Losing my job is like the worst breakup I’ve ever been through," said another. In the midst of this carnage, I’ve clung ever tighter to my work―not so much to the money-making part of it, which ebbs and flows (mostly ebbs, lately), but to the basic joy I’ve always taken in words; that at least doesn’t go anywhere.
For so long I had measured my beauty (and, really, my worth) by my dress size. And, hey, I would love, I mean love, to be a size 6 again. Still, every time I give a lecture or teach a workshop and touch someone―or write a page and reach a deeper part of myself―I feel so useful and relevant. It translates to a more profound feeling of beauty than the rush I once got from someone admiring my breast size. I like superficial praise as much as the next person, but at 40 the love finally had to go deeper, didn’t it?
Asha Bandele is the author of Something Like Beautiful: One Single Mother’s Story, The Prisoner’s Wife, and Daughter.